If “Antwone Fisher” is a sign of things to come in Black Hollywood, then maybe Halle Berry’s “Best Actress” win at last year’s Academy Awards wasn’t a sign of the apocalypse after all.
Rookie Derek Luke portrays the title character, a handsome sailor with a penchant for fighting anyone about anything. After a clash with one of his superiors, he’s ordered to visit the base psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington). Finally, we learn his story.
Born in an Ohio prison to a woman who didn’t claim him after her release, Fisher spent his childhood as a ward of the state. He winds up in the home of Mrs. Tate (a brilliant portrayal by Novella Nelson), a sadistic woman whose discipline for him and his two foster brothers includes fire, ropes, wet rags for beatings and name-calling.
Surprisingly, the side story is interesting too. Through Fisher’s interest with a sailor named Cheryl (Joy Bryant of MTV’s “Carmen” fame), Washington uses a revolutionary concept – black people with real chemistry.
From their shy meetings at the BX (base exchange, think” Navy Wal-Mart”) to the film’s ending credits, Antwone and Cheryl share a genuine, respectful and realistic love affair. It’s not so sweet that it’s sappy and intolerable, nor is it so flawed that it becomes unbelievable or clichÃ©.
Still, “Fisher” leaves room for questions. The viewers see plenty of why Antwone is so troubled but they miss what triggers his lashing out. Plus, if he only suffered from women, why is he so violent towards men?
It’s nearly impossible to avoid noticing that the female antagonists of the movie are all dark-skinned and unkempt. Meanwhile, the good-hearted women are all light-skinned and beautiful. The thought that Washington achieved this on purpose is laughable, but hard to ignore.
Still, these mistakes are minor, and barely make a dent in the film as a whole. Together they merely point to the fact that although Washington is a veteran actor, he is a freshman director. Washington has plenty of room to grow, and “Fisher” is a fine place to start.