This is another true story, and the story behind the film is almost as heart-rending and life-affirming as the film itself. The real Antwone Fisher was working as a guard on the lot at Sony Pictures. He befriended a producer and told him his story.
page Fisher's mother was in jail when he was born. His father had been murdered two months before. As a young child, he was physically, verbally and sexually abused.
"You know, that's really a movie," Fisher's produer-friend said. "Let me help show you how to write it."
Derek Luke, the man who plays Fisher, was selling candy at the Sony commissary.
In one scene, Fisher goes to Cleveland, where he was raised, to try to find his biological family. The social worker asks "Where were you born?"
When fisher replies, "Ohio State Correctional Facility for Women," I lost it. I was in tears.
The true miracle is Antwone Fisher survived at all. As director, Washington tells this story so beautifully. It's not only a great film, it's the kind that can change people's lives. Grade: A-” ― Joel Siegal, ‘Antwone Fisher’
I do not cry easily at the movies; years can go past without tears. I have noticed that when I am deeply affected emotionally, it is not by sadness so much as by goodness. Antwone Fisher has a confrontation with his past, and a speech to the mother who abandoned him, and a reunion with his family, that create great, heartbreaking, joyous moments.
The story behind the film is extraordinary. Fisher was a security guard at the Sony studio in Hollywood when his screenplay came to the attention of the producers. Denzel Washington was so impressed he chose it for his directorial debut. The newcomer Derek Luke, cast in the crucial central role after dozens of more experienced actors had been auditioned, turned out to be a friend of Antwone's; he didn't tell that to the filmmakers because he thought it would hurt his chances. The film is based on truth but some characters and events have been dramatized, we are told at the end. That is the case with every "true story." The film opens with a dream image that will resonate through the film: Antwone, as a child, is welcomed to a dinner table by all the members of his family, past and present. He awakens from his dream to the different reality of life on board an aircraft carrier. He will eventually tell Davenport that his father was murdered two months before he was born, that his mother was in prison at the time and abandoned him, and that he was raised in a cruel foster home. Another blow came when his closest childhood friend was killed in a robbery. Antwone, who is constitutionally incapable of crime, considers that an abandonment, too.
As Antwone's weekly sessions continue, he meets another young sailor, Cheryl Smolley (Joy Bryant). He is shy around her, asks Davenport for tips on dating, keeps it a secret that he is still a virgin. In a time when movie romances end in bed within a scene or two, their relationship is sweet and innocent. He is troubled, he even gets in another fight, but she sees that he has a good heart and she believes in him.
Davenport argues with the young man that all of his troubles come down to a need to deal with his past. He needs to return to Ohio and see if he can find family members. He needs closure. At first Fisher resists these doctor's orders, but finally, with Cheryl's help, he flies back. And that is where the preparation of the early scenes pays off in confrontations of extraordinary power.
Without detailing what happens, I will mention three striking performances from this part of the movie, by Vernee Watson-Johnson as Antwone's aunt, by Earl Billings as his uncle, and by Viola Davis as his mother. Earlier this year, Davis appeared as the maid in "Far from Heaven" and as the space-station psychiatrist in "Solaris." Now this performance. It is hard to believe it is the same actress. She hardly says a word, as Antwone spills out his heart in an emotionally shattering speech.
Antwone's story is counterpointed with the story of Dr. Davenport and his wife, Berta (Salli Richardson). There are issues in their past, too, and in a sense Davenport and Fisher are in therapy together. There is a sense of anticlimax when Davenport has his last heartfelt talk with Antwone, because the film has reached its emotional climax in Ohio and there is nowhere else we want it to take us. But the relationship between the two men is handled by Washington, as the director, with close and caring attention. Hard to believe Derek Luke is a newcomer; easy to believe why Washington decided he was the right actor to play Antwone Fisher.