Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

The war within

Antwone Fish­er (Derek Luke) is a sailor with a bad tem­per. Ear­ly on in the film, a racial remark eas­i­ly sets him off and he brawls with a ship­mate. Fish­er pleads guilty and his instruc­tor quick­ly deports him to a med­ical cen­ter. There, he is oblig­at­ed to meet with base psy­chi­a­trist Dr. Jerome Dav­en­port (Den­zel Washington).

Dav­en­port is a good-natured doc­tor and a lov­ing hus­band who wants to help Fish­er. But naval rules and reg­u­la­tions lim­it both men to three ses­sions of therapy.

In the begin­ning, Fish­er is timid. He refus­es to dis­cuss, believ­ing that he does­n’t have a prob­lem. Mean­while, Dav­en­port remains patient. He sits at his desk and com­pletes paper­work, wait­ing for Fish­er to make the first move and talk.

The first ses­sion begins when Fish­er final­ly decides to speak. Their first con­ver­sa­tion is basic. Fish­er recalls his dis­turb­ing past. He informs Dav­en­port that his father was shot by an ex-girl­friend and that his moth­er gave birth to him while in prison. He nev­er got to know his moth­er since she tem­porar­i­ly placed him in a fos­ter home and nev­er returned to claim him.

The plot thick­ens. Dav­en­port believes there’s more to Fish­er than mere “bad luck”. He slow­ly reach­es deep inside Fish­er’s mind and sould to uncov­er his dark­est secrets and fright­en­ing child­hood mem­o­ries. What ini­tial­ly begins as a patient-doc­tor rela­tion­ship soon esca­lates into a father-son type attach­ment. Fish­er and Dav­en­port form a strong bond and the result, a movie with an undy­ing strength.

Antwone Fish­er” is an inspir­ing film. Not only is the script (writ­ten by the real Antwone Fish­er him­self) rich and poet­ic, but the sto­ry is mov­ing. New­com­er Derek Luke is the movie’s main attrac­tion. It’s actu­al­ly hard to believe that this is Luke’s first onscreen per­for­mance. He is charis­mat­ic and believ­able. The same goes for Wash­ing­ton, who not only deliv­ers a warm per­for­mance, but steps in the direc­tor’s chair for the first time.

Wash­ing­ton’s direc­to­r­i­al debut, much like Clooney’s with “Con­fes­sions of a Dan­ger­ous Mind”, is strik­ing. I will not speak much about it since it is so fine­ly set­up. But what I loved most about “Antwone Fish­er” was its trag­ic side. It tells a sad sto­ry, about a man who is indeed at war with him­self, like the ad states. As a young­ster, Fish­er wit­nessed moments of ter­ror and nev­er spoke about them to any­one. But there comes a time in every­one’s life, where one must face real­i­ty and free his/her mind — no mat­ter how hard it is.

Deep down inside, we all have secrets. Some are extra­or­di­nary and some, upset­ting. Some­times these secrets, for a rea­son or anoth­er, trans­form us. They shape our char­ac­ter. They trans­port our mind and heart to far­away places. Sud­den­ly, we feel an urge to speak about these secrets and these places. And that is why turn to our fam­i­ly. We can depend on them and we can trust them. They are the best lis­ten­ers and the most com­fort­ing peo­ple to be around.

U.S. journalist/writer Jane Howard once wrote, “Call it a clan, call it a net­work, call it a tribe, call it a fam­i­ly. What­ev­er you call it, who­ev­er you are, you need one.” That’s the gen­er­al mes­sage behind “Antwone Fisher.”


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