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Antwone Fisher - Preview and US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

FRESH from his history-making success at last year’s Oscars ceremony (when he became the first black actor to be awarded the Best Actor honour for his role in Training Day), Denzel Washington is earning yet more acclaim for his latest project, Antwone Fisher, which marks his first film as director.

Based on Antwone Fisher's autobiography, ‘Finding Fish’, the film is a true story about an angry Navy sailor, Antwone Fisher, on the verge of being booted out for repeated fights, who eventually turns his life around with the guidance of a Navy psychiatrist (played by Washington himself). The change of direction prompts Fisher to search for the family that abandoned him as a baby.

Newcomer Derek Luke stars as the eponymous sailor in what has been described by many critics as one of the breakthrough performances of last year (the film opened in December in the States). Yet the story of how he came to be cast is almost as remarkable as the one depicted on-screen.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Luke was discovered working in a gift shop on the Sony Pictures lot by Antwone Fisher himself. The former sailor turned screenwriter had been working on the lot, himself, as a security guard, when he popped into the gift shop to make a purchase.

Fisher subsequently brought Luke to the attention of the film's producers - including Washington, Randa Haines and Todd Black - who met with him several times, before Black and Washington then surprised Luke by visiting him at the gift shop to offer him the coveted role (which had also been tipped for Will Smith).

The subsequent film, which is being released in the UK on March 7, is being talked about as a potential Oscar contender, for both Luke and Washington, in the actor and director stakes - though whether it has the clout to muscle out Oscar favourites, such as The Hours, Gangs of New York and About Schmidt, remains to be seen.

US reaction

The reviews from America tended towards the positive, even though a few found fault. Hollywood Reporter, for instance, felt that ‘without Washington's involvement, Antwone Fisher is probably movie-of-the-week fare’, while Slant Magazine referred to it as ‘emotionally uplifting and inspiring in the most obnoxiously genial ways imaginable’.

The Onion’s A.V. Club went one worse, meanwhile, describing it as ‘a burbling morass of clichés’, while Village Voice felt that ‘everything - even life on an aircraft carrier - is sentimentalised’.

But, generally, the notices veered towards the positive, with even those that were mixed finding something to praise. The New York Daily News, for example, awarded it two and a half out of four and said that ‘if you like a good holiday cry at the movies, Antwone Fisher will deliver. But don't look for any surprises’.

Better still was Film Journal International, which hailed Washington’s skill as director, stating that the film is ‘so beautifully acted and directed, it's clear that Washington most certainly has a new career ahead of him if he so chooses’.

Likewise, FilmCritic.com, which awarded it four out of five, and wrote that it is ‘uniformly well-performed and blessed with a spotless screenplay’.

The New York Times felt that it ‘leaves you feeling released, enlightened and in deeper touch with humanity’, while Rolling Stone referred to it as ‘a solid piece of craftsmanship’. Reel.com stated, simply, that it is ‘moving and empowering’.

The New York Post, meanwhile, led the Oscar predictions, stating that it is ‘an Oscar-worthy, emotionally honest, feel-good saga’, while Variety stated that it is ‘crafted with the same measured intensity and quiet authority found in his best onscreen work, Denzel Washington's debut behind the camera, Antwone Fisher, is an emotionally charged true-life story of one man's tenacity and eventual redemption’.

Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, concludes this overview by stating that ‘Washington, the director, couldn't have made a smarter choice for the title role - or chosen a more appropriate project to make his own’, awarding it a B and concluding that even though they remained dry-eyed, ‘a salute is in order’.

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