Directed by Denzel Washington. USA. 2002.


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Denzel Washington’s directorial debut starts with a young naval rating (Antwone Fisher - Derek Luke) waking from a strange dream. The hectic activity of the sailors washing and joking is in sharp contrast to his dream of being a child in the countryside surrounded by his family. One of the men marks a remark to Antwone and they get into a fistfight. As punishment Antwone is restricted to his ship and ordered to see a Navy psychiatrist.

At first Antwone refuses to cooperate with the psychiatrist (Davenport - Denzel Washington), but he does gradually open-up to him. Through the guidance of the psychiatrist the film movingly shows Antwone recalling the murder of his father, his abandonment by his mother, and the abusive treatment at his foster home. The worrying side-effect of this is that Antwone starts to regard the Davenport and his wife as surrogate parents. Davenport confronts him about this issue and tells him that the only way he can really resolve all his pent-up fears and hatred is to find his mother.

Antwone Fisher. All Rights Reserved.Through the help of his girlfriend he does eventually find himself surrounded by his family in a fashion similar to the opening dream. This ‘dream’ framework is contrived, and since this is based on a true story you wonder what has been cut-out or restructured for the benefit of the silver screen. For example, when Antwone is sent back from his ship after brawling during shore-leave you wonder why the Navy doesn’t just kick him out. Also, Antwone shows himself as the victim of circumstance, which is highlighted in the scene when he follows his best-friend and gets involved in an armed hold-up. 

Apart from such niggles, Denzel Washington and Derek Luke put in strong and convincing performances. The flashbacks recounted by Antwone interweave neatly with the present-day events and you quickly get hooked on wanting to know more about his past. You also want him to sort himself out but there is always the sense that he will do something that will jeopardise his future. Besides finding Antwone’s roots, the film shows him coping with his girlfriend, and in-turn his therapy also helps Davenport come to terms with his own strained marital relationship. 

For a film about psychiatric and emotional matters there is, thankfully, no psychobabble. The only time any theory is put forward is when Antwone reads a book, given to him by Davenport, that says that black people can often be abusive to each other because they are copying the master-slave relationship of the old plantation days. Although this helps explain why Antwone’s foster mother tortured him and called him ‘nigger’ he does not forgive her.

For a film shot mainly indoors with lots of dialogue it never gets stagey or ponderous. Denzel as actor and director believes in this story and uses all his skills to make us feel every bump in Antwone’s journey of self-discovery. 

Nigel Watson
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