Antwone Fisher. It's a simple film really. The directorial debut of Denzel Washington, this is the story of one man's struggle to regain his dignity and self esteem for his own life after years of abandonment and rejection by those that should have loved him the most. Written by the actual Fisher, the script concisely takes the viewer through the adult Fisher's early life in the Navy as he tries to overcome the hardships he faced as a young boy, aided by a Navy psychiatrist, played by Denzel Washington (giving yet another great performance.)
In terms of direction, there is nothing outstanding about this film. The cinematography is nothing special, yet it gets the point across. The performances work to the same effect. What gives this film a lift is the story itself. I don't want to give too much away, but (and spoilers lie ahead) I must speak on some of the action to truly convey why I liked this movie. Fisher was abandoned, more or less, by his mother. A girlfriend killed his father two months before Fisher was born. His mother was spending time in a correctional institute at the time of his birth. Given to a foster family, he was mistreated and eventually told to leave when he was a young man. Joining the Navy gave him some direction, but it was not until meeting and talking with a naval psychiatrist that he was able to come to terms with his troubles. In real life, I am not sure that this is exactly as the story went, but the use of Washington's character gets the point across in the film.
Eventually, he is able to control his anger and begins the healing process, part of which is finding his natural family, namely his mother. This scene is the one that I felt to be most heart wrenching. His mother, when he finds her, is currently living in a tenement. She does not recognize him at first, but once she does, is reduced to tears because she realizes what she has done. Yet, we (the audience) know she will not change. For the film, it is not necessary, but thinking about it I was struck by the idea that she would only find herself worse off after this incident. In many ways, this film forces one to take a look at that mentality, be it black, white or any other color. What is at the heart of this is the abandonment that many face when they have parents unable or unwilling to raise the child they took the responsibility of having. In the end, it was probably a good thing that she did not raise him, as he most certainly would have ended up in a far worse position. Further, the racial element of his predicament should not be overlooked.
Before going on, I must link to the review (by Josh Ralske) at AllMovie.com. Here is a good chunk of it,
We see the horrific, if overly familiar, privations of Fisher's early life in flashback, but in later life, as the film begins, things seem to fall a bit too quickly and conveniently into place for the young man as he seeks out and battles his demons. The film also risks misinterpretation by accepting the societal racism responsible for many of Fisher's woes as a given. The film doesn't address race directly as an issue in Antwone's life. Of course, more thoughtful viewers will understand that Antwone's oppressors (who are all black) are themselves the products of an internalized racism, but less-thoughtful white viewers may appreciate feeling like they've been let off the hook in this instance because there are no racist, or even unpleasant, white people depicted in the film. Whether or not it's screenwriter Fisher's and/or director Washington's responsibility to explicate the sociopathology of its black oppressors is an interesting question.
I do think the racial element may have been sidestepped, but I do not think it takes way from the film (perhaps I am one of those less-thoughtful white viewers.) This is a story that could happen to anyone regardless of race. Yet some of what happens to Fisher may very well be directly linked to race. In the end, what we are dealing with is a story of one man's ability to overcome whatever hardships were placed in his path, be it his own fault or the fault of someone else. What I found powerful about the story is his ability to rise above it. True, the movie ends on a high note. Fisher has found a family to belong to and Washington's character is also a better man for it. Frankly, I don't think the film lacks a thing on any racial level. If anything it lacks deepness, but by the end the audience has received the message. Regardless of what happens to us, we still have the ability to take charge of our own lives and make something of it. Each and everyone one of us are able to make a choice. To quote Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption, "either get busy living or get busy dying."
I enjoyed the film precisely because it did not get involved in the blame game and instead focused on one man's power to overcome. Washington may have a future in direction, as long as it does not take away from his acting. Fisher may have a future as a screenwriter. But this film definitely has a future as a feel good picture that anyone can enjoy just because of it’s message. It simply gives one hope that no matter what happens in life, we can still make a difference, even if only to ourselves. That is all