>EXPOSÉ---------Antwone Fisher (Denzel Washington, director)
Good choice, but Antwone--expose of what?
I've come to the4 conclusion that A Beautiful Mind style synthetic
uplift is more of a disservice than help.
Antwone Fisher Does a Disservice to a Serviceman's Psychological Struggle
Review By Ian Grey
First off, yes, Denzel can direct, although he's more inclined to the
stodgy earnestness of Norman Jewison than the grit of Spike Lee (both
have directed Washington in the past). His intentions with his
topic--the radical childhood abuse suffered by the real Antwone
Fisher, who also wrote this fictionalized account--are impeccable.
It's good that the film, as far as it goes, exists. It's lousy that
it settles for misleading panaceas and a subject-degrading Hollywood
We meet the movie Fisher (Derek Luke), a young African-American man,
while he's stationed on a Navy aircraft carrier in San Diego. His
childhood trauma manifests via unmanageable rage--a hint of racist
spew from another sailor, and he's busting heads. In lieu of the
brig, he's ordered to see Dr. Davenport (Washington), a Navy
psychiatrist with a quietly disintegrating marriage.
Davenport guides him through the nightmare process of recalling the
events that will lead to his psychological reintegration (the murder
of his father, abandonment by his mother, systematic
degradation/beatings of his foster mother, repeated rape by a
babysitter, and homelessness at age 17). He meets a sweet girl named
Cheryl (Joy Bryant) who's willing to do whatever it takes. Everything
you think is going to happen, happens: Davenport's relationship with
Fisher allows him to deal with his own issues; Fisher and Cheryl
become intimate; Fisher confronts and defeats his demons.
What's admirable is how far Washington is willing to go in his
depictions of Fisher's godawful upbringing, his explorations of child
abuse as a form of African-American rage turned in on itself, and his
understanding of the cyclical nature of violence. Until its final
descent into dishonest wish fulfillment, the film offers some teasing
moments that suggest Washington understands the need for urban
realism a la Abel Ferrara, even while his lesser instincts are
compelled to resort to the comfort-compulsive fantasyland resolutions
of Steven Spielberg.
The scenes set in the Cleveland of Fisher's boyhood are the real,
ghastly deal, filmed by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot in a
color-drained manner that emphasizes their absolute unsuitability for
human habitation. Washington finds a horrific motif for transferred
self-loathing when foster mother Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson) refuses
to call young Antwone by his actual name, substituting instead the
"n-word" anytime she addresses him. Washington also shows elegant
discretion in his depiction of the boy's first rape, which doesn't at
all soften the horror of his violation. And a brief scene where
Fisher confronts the mother (Viola Davis) we've been led to assume is
monstrous reveals her to instead be discomfortingly human.
Acting-wise, there's certainly nothing to complain about. Bryant, a
model-turned-actress, has a warmly cuddly feline presence, although
her utter commitment-without-complaint to her man lacks even the one
freak-out scene Jennifer Connelly was allowed in A Beautiful Mind.
Washington lends his usual irresistible gravitas to his saintly
Davenport, and seems to enjoy being on the relative sidelines here.
And newcomer Luke's performance is a naturalistic marvel of
understatement, especially considering the psychological poppycock
he's required to sell later in the film.
Washington's presentation of Navy healthcare procedures is not only
inconsistent with medical ethics--it's ridiculous. Anyone who's been
in therapy will be mordantly amused to find that Fisher's Navy health
plan includes endless office visits, midnight and at-home counseling,
and surrogate family privileges. Meanwhile, the director's sun-kissed
utopian view of bucolic Navy base life seems an advertising adjunct
to 1-800-GO-NAVY, an impression reinforced by irrelevant montages of
sailors assembling on cool-looking carriers.
For a boy tortured--literally--by women since birth, Fisher suffers
no adult sexual problems. His other psych problems are
cured--permanently, apparently--after his encounter with Davenport
and via the support of an extended family that materializes, quite
literally, out of the blue (and to create closure for a ham-fisted
bookending effect also borrowed from the Book of Spielberg) .
Films such as A Beautiful Mind and Antwone Fisher deserve limited
props for addressing their respective issues but are ultimately
superficial weep-and-dismiss engagements. Most schizophrenics don't
enjoy total remission; survivors of the kind of abuse depicted in
Fisher face catastrophic depression, substance abuse, sexual
dysfunction, suicide attempts, and symptomatic relapse. Therapy lasts
Sugar-coating such realities offers audiences false reassurances that
such problems are fairly easily managed and ameliorated. There's no
denying Antwone Fisher's efficiency as a five-hankie special, but the
rushed epiphanies and over-the-top resolving uplift of Washington's
last reel are almost insultingly glib in light of the horrors his
hero faced. You'd think that the mere fact that Fisher survived, soul
intact, would be miraculous enough.
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama: http://www.tcf.ua.edu