Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Denzel Washington
Principals: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant
Rating: PG-13 (violence, language and mature thematic material)
By Mardon and Lynne DeMichele
“Who will cry for the little boy who cries inside of me?”
Opening scene: A young boy stands alone in a vast, dry field looking up at a white barn atop a nearby hill. The doors open and a kindly old man reaches out to invite him in. He sees a sumptuous feast table surrounded by a crowd of people – all lovingly welcoming him.
Cut away to today: “Antwone Fisher” is quietly going about some ordinary task with his shipmates when, after a comment by one of them, he flies into an inexplicable and violent rage.
(UMC.org) -- Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke, in his first film role) is a hothead and can’t seem to get along. His upbringing has been troubled and were it not for the Navy, he’d have fallen through the cracks of society long ago. His type is familiar: sullen, angry and uncaring about life or his future in it. He has no faith in himself or anyone else. Still, we sense there’s enough of a good heart inside that makes us root for him to make it.
|In his first role, Derek Luke's portrayal of Antwone Fisher has audiences rooting for his character to make it throughout the film. Photo © 2002 Fox Searchlight Pictures.|
After a pattern of conflict with others, the young Antwone is sent to a psychiatrist, Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington), for evaluation. As Antwone finally begins to open up, we catch glimpses of the roots of his ever-simmering anger and alone-ness. After being born in prison, he is reared in a foster home where “Mrs. Tate” (Novella Nelson) frequently reminds him “your own mama don’t even want you, N ....”
It’s not hard to see Mrs. Tate’s own buried anger reflected in her cruelty toward her young charges. She regularly drags the boys to church where they experience lively but spiritually vacant worship. Layered underneath this Dickensian environment is a particular current of abuse which leaves Antwone terrified and repulsed by physical intimacy, yet starved for emotional closeness. After weeks of silence, his first words to Davenport are, revealingly, “I got no parents.”
Even after having enlisted in the Navy, it’s clear that he’s not safe anywhere because his own skin is inhabited by so many demons. In order to exorcize them, Davenport urges him to delve into his past. Meanwhile Antwone and a young Navy woman, attracted by the shy, sweet side of him, have begun a gentle, cautious relationship. “Cheryl” (Joy Bryant) accompanies him back to the home of his youth where he has a cathartic confrontation with Mrs. Tate and also discovers the identity of his parents. A subsequent scene between the young man and his drug-addled and distant mother is heartbreaking. “Why didn’t you come for me, Mama? Why?”
|Joy Bryant's character, Cheryl, helps Antwone face the demons of his past. Photo © 2002 Fox Searchlight Pictures.|
There are no answers but the net effect is transforming for Antwone. Events that follow bring him to an unexpected and joyful moment of salvation.
Most of us who come from “good homes” and ordinary childhoods have a difficult time identifying with those whose actions as adults emerge from horrific beginnings. “Antwone” makes us care about such people and perhaps think, “There but for the grace of God….” Most important, the film also shows us how redemption can and does come through ordinary human relationships.
Denzel Washington’s directorial debut is unforgettable. His attention to character detail is rich, yet often so subtle that many might miss the nuances. For instance, the subtext of the small talk at the Davenports’ dinner table is both delightfully revealing and familiar. The lack of dialogue when Antwone meets his mother speaks volumes. In his maturing relationship with the older man, Davenport, we see both characters in an ever-clarifying light.
The story of the making of “Antwone” is almost as interesting as the film, itself. The real Antwone Fisher, whose life story is depicted, was working as a security guard at Sony when Denzel first heard of him. Washington told ABC News in a recent interview, “It was such an amazing story. And then I got … to meet Antwone. I was hooked.”
|Denzel Washington's attention to character detail in his directorial debut is rich, yet subtle. Photo © 2002 Fox Searchlight Pictures.|
Fisher, himself, wrote the screenplay, and after nearly a decade and 41 re-writes, it was ready. Washington agreed to star in his own film in order to attract the necessary funding – and at greatly reduced pay. He’d found a story that will change lives.
The son of a pastor (Church of God), Washington publicly revealed his spiritual underpinnings in the acceptance speech for last year’s Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Training Day.” He began by saying, “God is good… God is great.” In this latest film, he shows us his belief in redemption and the healing power of love.
Mardon DeMichele has been a filmmaker, professor and on-air critic. Lynne DeMichele is a professional writer, editor and former director of communications for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church.