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“Antwone Fisher”

In an end-of-the-year rush when a lot of great films are being released, “Fisher” is not one of the best. But with a smart and emotional script, two fine performances and the directorial debut of a star, there are some good reasons to check out “Antwone Fisher.”

A few of these films have been great, like “Good Will Hunting.” Others have been satisfying, if not masterpieces, like “The Prince of Tides.” Most belong on Lifetime, not in a cinema where one has to pay $8 to watch the sessions. 

“Antwone Fisher” is yet another film of the “therapy genre.” It is not a great film. The recognition it has received from the American Film Institute, which listed it as one of the 10 best films of the year, hardly seems warranted. On the other hand, “Antwone Fisher” does have several things going for it, including the fact that the film does not make the most classic mistake of films about therapy. 

The classic mistake about therapy films is that most make the process seem so easy. There is always this climactic moment, usually toward the end of the film, when the patient remembers, or admits, some tragedy in the past and reveals it to the therapist (and simultaneously to the audience).  

More often than not in these films, the great secret has something to do with being abused as a child, often times sexual molestation. “Fisher” does continue this trend, but the fact that the secret is not the conclusion of the problem makes the film different.  

All too often in therapy films, once the secret is revealed, then the patient is fine and can move on with his life. Anyone who knows anything about therapy knows it is seldom so easy. A powerful scene in”Fisher”addresses this very issue.  

Antwone returns to his therapist’s office and confronts him in front of other patients. Antwone claims that his problems are bigger than anything three sessions can fix. That moment in the film, which actually comes early in the drama, is an indictment of every therapy film that makes the classic mistake of implying that therapy is a quick fix.

“Antwone Fisher”tells the true story of a U.S. Navy sailor who cannot seem to stay out of trouble. His temper causes him to end up in one too many fights, so he is sent to the base counselor in order to determine if Antwone should be allowed to remain in the Navy. The rest of the film follows the relationship that builds between the sailor and his therapist.   

There is a subplot about a romantic relationship on which Antwone embarks during his therapy. The counselor also has some personal struggles that bear on how the story plays out.

There are some predictable moments along the way, and there are a few surprises—the biggest being how the film handles the issue of therapy, as described above. Another surprise that works well comes late in the film, when one expects a reunion to tie everything up neatly, but it does not.   

The fact that this story is based on the true experiences of the real Antwone Fisher gives the script, which Fisher wrote, more gravity. Knowing that these events are based on true events makes an already emotional film even more so. 

Denzel Washington, one of the finest actors working today, made his directorial debut with this film. Both his direction and his performance as the counselor are quite good. However, the star of the film is Derek Luke, who plays Antwone. Luke, an unknown, is in almost every scene, except for flashbacks when younger actors play his character. Luke carries this film. His performance has even generated some Oscar buzz; he is that good indeed. 

In an end-of-the-year rush when a lot of great films are being released, “Fisher” is not one of the best. But with a smart and emotional script, two fine performances and the directorial debut of a star, there are some good reasons to check out “Antwone Fisher.”

Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language and mature thematic material involving abuse

Director: Denzel Washington

Writer: Antwone Fisher

Cast: Antwone Fisher: Derek Luke; Cheryl: Joy Bryant; Jerome Davenport: Denzel Washington; Berta: Salli Richardson; Mrs. Tate: Novella Nelson; Annette: Vernee Watson Johnson.