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'Antwone Fisher'

Strong story, cast make 'Antwone Fisher' a life-affirming film

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

New Year's Day, when resolutions are freshly minted, may be the perfect time for the movie "Antwone Fisher" to arrive. It dramatically demonstrates that a man who was born, literally, in a prison can eventually set himself free -- with the help of a good woman and, especially, a decent man who is both psychiatrist and father figure. It celebrates a person who has been knocked to the canvas repeatedly, by fate and his own gnawing anger, and who realizes he can keep getting up and getting stronger.

 
 
'Antwone Fisher'

dot.gif RATING: PG-13 fore violence, language and mature thematic material involving abuse.

dot.gif STARRING: Derek Luke, Denzel Washington.

dot.gif DIRECTOR: Denzel Washington.

dot.gif WEB SITE: www2.foxsearchlight.com
/antwonefisher

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Based on a true story, "Antwone Fisher" is directed with a steady hand by Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington, who might have played the lead 20 years ago. Now, he's behind the camera and psychiatrist's desk as Dr. Jerome Davenport, providing a recognizable, reliable touchstone for moviegoers who have never heard of Fisher or newcomer Derek Luke, who portrays him.

"Antwone Fisher" opens with Navy sailor Antwone Fisher's latest round of fisticuffs, which lands him in trouble (again) and in the psychiatric clinic where Davenport works. The older man warns Fisher that he is headed for a discharge, but the young seaman refuses to divulge much about his background. "I'm from under a rock," he says, adding that he's not returning for counseling, "'cause there's nothing wrong with me."

Of course Davenport knows that is not the case and insists Fisher meet his requirement of three sessions -- and that the sessions won't officially start until Fisher talks. It takes many meetings, but Fisher eventually begins dribbling out details about his past. His mother gave birth in prison two months after his father was murdered. Young Antwone was put in an orphanage and eventually placed in a foster home with a storefront preacher and his abusive wife.

Fisher's harrowing story is revealed to the audience in bits and pieces, just as it's told to Davenport. It's interwoven with his courtship of a woman (Joy Bryant) who's second-generation Navy and the circumstances of Davenport's own marriage (Salli Richardson plays his wife) with its unspoken rumblings of dashed dreams. Davenport encourages Fisher to do the very thing the young man doesn't want to do: find his family so he can make peace with the past.

As a first-time director, Washington makes strong casting choices, especially with Luke, who must run the gamut of emotions from anger and unvarnished pain to discomfort, embarrassment and the simple delight of dating a pretty, optimistic young woman. Although Washington doesn't stint in conveying the violence and abusive language of what can barely be called a "childhood," he shows welcome restraint in other scenes of sexual abuse.

"Antwone Fisher" celebrates perseverance, the indomitability of the human spirit and family. There is nothing more forceful or inspirational than the moment when Fisher declares: "I'm still standing. I'm still strong, and I always will be."

The side story of the personal problems of the psychiatrist and his wife feels truncated or invented for a neater conclusion. However, that doesn't detract from the power of the movie, which doesn't even include the part about the real Fisher later working as a security guard at Sony Pictures, then writing a memoir that became a best seller and movie.

It's life-affirming, strong stuff.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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