For over a decade now, Denzel Washington has been tearing up the screen with riveting performances from "Malcolm X" to "Training Day." Now, he steps onto the other side of the camera and directs newcomer Derek Luke as the title character in "Antwone Fisher," a movie about an everyday young man who did not have nearly so normal of a past.
Luke stars as Antwone, a troubled young man in the Navy who has just been reduced in rank for getting in another fight. He has a short temper and doesn't know how to control it, so he is sent to see a psychiatrist (Denzel Washington). As their relationship grows, so does Antwone, as he meets a woman, gets introduced to family life, and begins to realize that to be complete he must finally meet the mother he never knew.
That being said, "Antwone Fisher" is your relatively ordinary story about a troubled kid who finds a mentor and turns his life around. He had a bad past, but his future, though somewhat uncertain, is looking up. When all is said and done, he'll have to find his real mother and confront her, ask her why she never sought him out. To give it more credit, though, "Antwone Fisher" is based on a true story and is even written by none other than the title character. The events that had happened in this movie, for the most part, happened in real life, and that sets it apart from similar films. While there have been plenty films on abusive childhoods, "Antwone" rings a little louder considering the fact that this miserable past belonged to a real person.
Derek Luke does a good job, especially considering that this is his first movie ever. It is pretty extraordinary to believe that a young man that has never acted before would be selected by none other than Denzel Washington to star in a December, Oscar-hopeful release, but Luke makes it look easy. He still has to develop, but he has the makings of a star, as long as he stays away from movies like "Biker Boyz" (his follow-up film). He presents to us an angry but likeable guy that has turned out pretty well considering the fact that he was never given a normal childhood.
Denzel Washington co-stars, and does his usual. There's nothing outstanding about this performance, and at times his character seems a little forced, but even ordinary Denzel is worth watching. Of course, what really matters is what he does behind the camera.
"Antwone Fisher" tells a good story in a good manner, though I wouldn't say there is anything extraordinary about the way it is presented. Washington pretty much sticks to the basics, and that may or may not be a good thing. On the one hand, he does a very good job of never trying to make this movie more powerful than it should be, but on the other hand, as his directorial debut, perhaps he should have tried something a little more ambitious. Don't get me wrong - "Antwone Fisher" is a good movie - it's just that the content doesn't really allow the director to be too creative. I would have to say that Denzel's strong suit is in front of the camera, not behind it.
Overall, "Antwone Fisher" is a good movie. It is slow at times and is never completely moving, but as time goes on it improves. I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that this movie was done much in sequence, because everything about the film seems to pick up pace as it goes along. Derek Luke really finds his rhythm in the second half of the film, and the movie seems to flesh itself out. Things become more natural in the second half as well, as Antwone Fisher (as screenwriter) throws in some comedy that works. If he writes another film, I would expect it to have a better mix of comedy and drama, because he seems to have a knack for it; unfortunately, in "Antwone Fisher," the comedy is a little lacking.
"Antwone Fisher" is a good but not terrific drama. As Denzel Washington's first directorial film and as Derek Luke's first performance it can only be considered as an achievement. Both have some room to grow, though. "Antwone Fisher" is one of the better films of the year, though it cannot be included among "the greats of 2002."
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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