Straightforward and occasionally rather predictable, "Antwone Fisher" works as well as it does because of good direction, fine performances and an interesting, true tale. It could have worked better had there been some surprises or a stronger first-half. The film focuses on the true story of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), a sailor in the US Navy who has a great deal of trouble controlling his temper. In the opening scenes, we see Fisher get in trouble for attacking a fellow sailor. The Navy recommends a shrink named Davenport (Washington), who may be able to find out what's behind Fisher's troubled nature.
Of course, Fisher doesn't speak with Davenport for most of the first session, staring silently while Davenport catches up on work. Slowly, but surely, Fisher starts to open up to him about his rough childhood. Given up by his mother, Antone spent his childhood years in an abusive Foster home, looked after by the brtual Ms. Tate. After finally breaking free, he eventually finds himself in the Navy. The first half of the picture is told with a mixture of flashbacks to Antwone's past. In the present, a pretty fellow officer named Cheryl (Joy Bryant) attracts Antwone's heart. Their scenes together are simple, but sweet - both have good chemistry and their interaction feels pleasantly awkward and real. Eventually, as their manditory three sessions come to an end, Davenport suggests to Antwone that he search for his own relatives - that way, maybe he can start to move forward. With Cheryl along for support, he tries to come to terms with his past. At the same time - in a somewhat underdeveloped subplot - Davenport attempts to repair his marriage.
"Fisher" works overall, but there are a fair amount of concerns. The picture is surprisingly low-key for a drama and, as a result, stretches of the film (especially in the first third) feel noticably long. Although pacing starts to get better once the film reaches the second half, by the end of the film, I still felt as if it was nearly thirty minutes longer than it actually was. It's occasionally a little sappy, too, but the majority of the film takes steps to earn its tears and not be manipulative. A little more intensity may have made the picture somewhat more compelling, however.
The film's performances are pretty good. Washington is emotional, complex and engaging as Davenport, although I sensed that it wasn't a particularly challenging role for him. Derek Luke is also quite good in the role, although he's stronger and more consistent in more dynamic scenes than the subtle ones. Joy Bryant - like Luke, a fairly new talent - is likable and lights up the screen as Cheryl.
At its core, this is an inspiring true story of a man who raised himself and had to overcome a terrible childhood. I rooted for Antwone to succeed and overcome his tragic past. In that regard, "Fisher" succeeds. However, I couldn't help but feel as if I've seen this done before, in a more dynamic and compelling way. "Antwone Fisher" is by no means a bad film - it's more an instance of a good film that I felt could have been great had it been tightened and presented in a way that was less predictable and familiar.
VIDEO: "Antwone Fisher" is presented by 20th Century Fox. The movie is visually rather conventional, and this transfer presents the picture in a way that's good, if not quite great. Sharpness and detail are generally good, although there are scenes scattered throughout that seem somewhat soft and undefined in comparison to the remainder of the film.
Flaws were somewhat bothersome at times, but nothing too serious. Some mild amounts of edge enhancement were present in several scenes. A few little specks and marks were spotted on the print used, as was some grain, although the grain may have been intentional. The film's color palette generally seemed well-rendered and crisp, with nice saturation and no major concerns.
SOUND: "Antwone Fisher" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Fox. The film's sound is fairly straightforward and front-heavy, sticking with a standard sound mix even during a few moments when the material could suggest a little more activity. Rear speaker activity does pop up in a couple of instances though, most noticably during a roll of thunder that accompanies the opening minutes of the film. Dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout, as did the score. Still, just a rather ordinary presentation sound-wise.
Commentary: "Antwone Fisher" offers a commentary from director/co-star/producer Denzel Washington and producer Todd Black, who have been recorded together for this track. The two offer a very enjoyable commentary, spending their time discussing the story of Fisher, chatting about production issues (working with the Navy, Washington's experiences directing for the first time) and working with the two relatively inexperienced leads.
Trailers: Trailers for the Kate Hudson/Naomi Watts pic "Le Divorce", "Drumline", Jim Sherdian's interesting-looking "In America" and the mega-budgeted Russell Crowe picture "Master and Commander".
Documentaries: The DVD offers three documentaries: a general "making of" (22 minutes), "Hollywood and the Navy" (5 minutes) and "Meeting Antwone Fisher" (14 minutes). The Fisher piece is an interesting and insightful piece that offers a good general overview of his time in the Navy, with interviews from Fisher and others. The "Hollywood and the Navy" piece is an cool, if too brief, piece that shows in more detail how the Navy works with a production. The "making of" is a general, promotional piece that, while offering a couple of interesting tidbits, is nothing out of the ordinary.
Final Thoughts: There are aspects of "Antwone Fisher" that I enjoyed and appreciated and overall, I felt it was a successful movie. However, pacing was an issue and the film is often too low-key for its own good, especially in the early third. Fox's DVD edition presents the film with fairly good audio/video quality, as well as a few solid supplements.
The Film ***