Antwone Fisher

(2002) ** Pg-13
121 min. Fox Searchlight. Director: Denzel Washington. Cast: Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Denzel Washington, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Earl Billings.

The film Antwone Fisher, in real life, represents opportunity for its titular subject--who turned his life into the screenplay of a major motion picture--for Derek Luke, who makes his screen debut as Fisher--and for Denzel Washington, who not only appears in a major role, but directs for the first time. The essence of Antwone Fisher--his triumph over childhood abuse and its self-destructive consequences--cannot help but inspire. But then why does Antwone Fisher fail to do the same?

Fisher's self-mythologizing script deserves much of the blame (it's based on Fisher's 2001 autobiography Finding Fish). Tracing the character of Antwone backwards from inexplicably hotheaded navy man to confused inner child --through psychotherapy with Washington's good-hearted, surrogate-fatherly Dr. Jerome Davenport--the story eschews any real emotional complexity for the comfortingly simple lines of a Hollywood screenplay (the real Fisher left behind his job as a Sony Pictures security guard after insiders coached him in reshaping his script).

As in Good Will Hunting, the patient resentfully dismisses psychotherapy, though he turns around to crave the attention of someone who cares to help him (Fisher ends up hurt that he can't get more than his limit of three sessions). Meanwhile, he's trying to make headway with "normal" life, represented by the love of a good woman (Joy Bryant's Cheryl). There's a TV-movie narrowness to the storytelling, including the counterpoint of Davenport's marriage-at-a-crossroads, his secret shame comparing to Antwone's. Fisher and Washington don't seem to get that they need to work against the clichés to make the story seem real, and not "reel." When Fisher stands in Davenport's living room on Thanksgiving and recites, "Who will cry for the little boy?", can audiences be blamed for cringing? (Applied as voice-over narration, the poem might have flown.)

Largely to blame is Washington's condescending tone as director. He opens with an Oscar-baiting dream sequence--laboriously mirrored later in the film--that demonstrates a visual acuity (credit Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot). What follows, however, is as visually bland as the storytelling is flat. The clumsy-tidy ending--when the healing is done--will likely evoke chuckles from many, though some may respond to the formula. For me, Antwone Fisher rings false, belittling instead of honoring its sensitive subject with its twinkly score, kid-glove nobility and cloying payoffs.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio

Street date: 1/20/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In its Blu-ray debut, Antwone Fisher looks mighty handsome; there's a touch of edge enhancement and intermittent horizontal jitter, but colors and detail are crisp and a vast improvement over DVD. Sound provides solid surround effects in a lossless DTS track that's downright definitive.

The special edition kicks off with an audio commentary by director Denzel Washington and producer Todd Black. The two have a friendly rapport as they recall how the film came to be and Washington's process in collaboration with Fisher and as a first-time actor-director. As a thorough oral history of the film's making, it's a must-listen for fans of the film and particularly Washington enthusiasts.

"Meeting Antwone Fisher" (14:12, SD) mostly profiles Fisher with a round-up of interviewees: Fisher himself, Washington, Joy Bryant, Black, James Brolin, and Salli Richardson.

"The Making of Antwone Fisher" (22:16, SD) broadens the scope, but takes a similar task, putting forward the comments of Washington, Fisher, Bryant, Black, Richardson, Derek Luke, editor Conrad Buff, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, production designer Nelson Coates, and production sound mixer Willie Burton, as well as on-set footage.

"Hollywood and the Navy" (4:41, SD) explores the collaboration of the filmmakers and the U.S. Navy, with Black, Coates, Washington, Fisher and Navy Public Relations Officer Lt. Tanya Wallace.

Last up is the "Original Theatrical Trailer" (2:34, HD). Though there's no new bonus features, owners of the 2003 DVD may just want to upgrade for the sharper image of Blu-ray.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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