Picture: producers Todd Black, Randa Haines, Denzel Washington
Director, supporting actor: Washington
Actor: Derek Luke
Screenplay: Antwone Fisher
Cinematographer: Phillippe Rousselot
Score: Mychael Danna
The one thing “Antwone Fisher” might have going against it is its title. Neither based on a previously published autobiography nor touting a famous title character, “Antwone Fisher” might be best known in industry circles as the directing debut of Denzel Washington, fresh off his actor Oscar win for “Training Day.”
But the title character also provides some positives. Based on the true story of a mentally and physically abused orphan who grapples with anger management as a volunteer Navy recruit before finding his way in the world, “Fisher” boasts many factors favorable to Academy voters: a disadvantaged hero who triumphs over adversity; a subtext that underscores society’s inequities and racial intolerance; no-frills, linear storytelling; and, most of all, the emotional tug of a three-hankie movie.
The character of Fisher, played by newcomer Derek Luke, learns to channel his rage and tap his potential through the help of a psychiatrist played by Washington. Pic has more than a few parallels with an Oscar winner of two decades ago, “Ordinary People,” about a self-loathing protagonist who gains confidence through the help of a shrink. Also like Robert Redford’s “People,” “Fisher” is an emotionally wrenching drama directed by a thesp who elicits strong performances from a young cast.
In “Fisher,” however, Washington does double duty by taking on the Judd Hirsch role and exhibiting an equally grounding presence with some of his most nuanced acting in years. It’s not inconceivable that Washington could be nominated in three categories: producer, supporting actor and director. After all, the Academy has favored movie stars-turned-first-time helmers: Redford; Kevin Costner (“Dances With Wolves”); and Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”), for director and picture.
Luke is much more of a long shot in the lead since he faces heavy, and seasoned, competition. However, the lensing by Oscar winner Philippe Rousselot (“A River Runs Through It”) imbues the drama with richness and depth, while the score by Mychael Danna — known for his work with Atom Egoyan — is stirring without being overstated.