December 31, 2002 -- "Antwone Fisher" is based on a true story that is even more uplifting than the film itself. It is about a man who had to overcome terrible childhood experiences which caused deep emotional scars. There are certain similarities to another film about mental illness, last year's Oscar winner, "A Beautiful Mind." It is an even better movie than that. It is one of the best films of the year, and a stunning achievement for actor/director Denzel Washington.
Antwone Fisher (played by Derek Luke) is a troubled young man in the Navy who frequently gets into fights. His disciplinary troubles cause him to wind up in the office of a Navy psychiatrist, Jerome Davenport (played by Denzel Washington, last year's Oscar winner for best actor in "Training Day.") There is a battle of wills as Fisher refuses to talk to Davenport, but eventually we begin to learn what's bothering Fisher in a series of flashbacks. Eventually, a strong bond develops between Fisher and Davenport. The psychiatrist learns a valuable lesson from his patient, while helping Fisher confront the demons in his past. The story is constructed so well (Fisher wrote the screenplay) that you don't realize there is a big emotional scene sneaking up on you until it is too late. It is a very powerful, and joyous scene.
Luke and Washington are both terrific in this film. Luke, a relative show business newcomer, turns in a real star-making performance. Also good is Fisher's girl friend in the film, Cheryl Smolley (played by Joy Bryant of "Showtime"). Another good performance is turned in by Salli Richardson of "The Book of Love" who plays Davenport's wife, Berta. Davenport and his wife have an interesting relationship in the film, with their own unresolved issues. Davenport's vulnerability in the film gives the character more humanity that one usually sees from a psychiatrist character in a movie (another good example of this was Robin Williams' fine performance in "Good Will Hunting"). This film rates an A.
The story behind the film is as good as the film itself. Homeless at 17, Antoine Fisher managed to pull his life together, as depicted in the film, and was working as a security guard at Sony Pictures Studio in Hollywood 10 years ago when he wrote the story of his life. Producer Todd Black saw the story and hired Fisher to write the screenplay. Fisher's writing ability is exceptional. His memoirs, "Finding Fish," published in 2001 and made the New York Times best seller list. An example of his writing is recited in the movie, a poem he wrote about his pain:
"Who will cry for the little boy, lost and all alone?
Who will cry for the little boy, abandoned without his own?
Who will cry for the little boy? He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy? He never had for keeps.
Who will cry for the little boy? He walked the burning sand.
Who will cry for the little boy? The boy inside the man.
Who will cry for the little boy? Who knows well hurt and pain.
Who will cry for the little boy? He died and died again.
Who will cry for the little boy? A good boy he tried to be.
Who will cry for the little boy, who cries inside of me?"
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