The release date for Antwone Fisher is calculated to coincide with “Oscar season.” It’s not the only calculation made by the film’s producers and director. Emotional calculations tug at the heart, and jerk at the tears. Nevertheless, Antwone Fisher has some good qualities that would earn a recommendation at any time of year.
In the Navy
PG-13 for language, violence, themes
Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke) is a young man in the U.S. Navy who has problems with anger. In fact, the film opens on Fisher throwing a punch at a superior officer. The incident gets him sentenced to 45 days extra duty, confinement to his ship, and psychiatric treatment.
First-time director Denzel Washington plays a psychiatrist, Dr. Davenport. Their first meeting goes a lot like the one between Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. Antwone refuses to speak, and Davenport lets him sit silently for an hour.
When Antwone finally decides to talk to the doc, in no time they are discussing Antwone’s troubled childhood where his foster mother’s beatings were the least of his worries. After an hour of psychology scenes, intercut with Antwone’s budding relationship with Cheryl (Joy Bryant), the movie feels finished.
Luckily for us, Antwone still has issues, hidden until now under the surface issues resolved in the first half. He picks another fight, and more therapy ensues. But Dr. Davenport has already done almost everything he can. So on Davenport’s advice, Antwone sets out in search of his biological mother, and of closure.
Sweet Humble Pie
Antwone Fisher has a lot going for it. The dialogue between doctor and patient, for example, is interesting. We get to eavesdrop on someone’s psychoanalysis, someone with an attention-grabbingly troubled childhood. Luke, giving his debut performance, sparkles with honesty and youth. And although the film is packed with emotion, only the triumphant ending tastes artificially sweetened.
The story’s most admirable quality is its humble scope. The world is not in peril; lives are not at stake; a great Truth is not revealed. One person, in order to be a better low-ranking navy sailor, overcomes psychological adversity. At the end of the movie, Fisher is not an admiral. He is still a low-ranking navy sailor, but he has found himself, his family, and his happiness.
The flip side is that the movie is not very cinematic, and while its tale is dramatic, its structure is not. The first hour of the movie simply alternates one scene of psychology with a scene of something else. The scenes outside of therapy provide a welcome texture to the movie, but they are almost gratuitous, and their use is obvious throughout the film. It’s a little distracting, although I don’t know if any other structure would have worked better. Maybe psychology just doesn’t lend itself to film.