Antwone FisherAntwone Fisher

USA, 2002.
Rated PG-13.
120 minutes.

Grade: C

Cast: Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Denzel Washington, Salli Richardson, Viola Davis, Earl Billings, Kevin Connolly, Rianoldo Gooding, Novella Nelson
Writers: Antwone Fisher
Music: Mychael Danna
Cinematographer: Philippe Rousselot
Producers: Todd Black, Randa Haines, Denzel Washington
Director: Denzel Washington

  Official site
  IMDB page
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8 Mile

USA, 2002.
Rated R.
110 minutes.

Grade: B-


Cast: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, Anthony Mackie, Eugene Byrd, Chloe Greenfield, Evan Jones, De'Angelo Wilson, Omar Benson Miller
Writers: Scott Silver
Music: Eminem
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Producers: Brian Grazer, Curtis Hanson, Jimmy Iovine
Director: Curtis Hanson

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Antwone Fisher
& 8 Mile

Reviews by Jeff Vorndam


Note: This review contains spoilers for Antwone Fisher and 8 Mile. Also, "Antwone" is pronounced as if it were "Antoine." That is all.

Good intentions, mediocre movie. Antwone Fisher has much in common with the recent Eminem vehicle, 8 Mile. Both films aspire to inspire. Both feature protagonists who grew up in tough conditions and, as young adults, harbor resentment and project hostility towards those around them. Both protagonists choose a non-violent, verbal method to slay their demons in the end. The difference between the two films, and the reason why 8 Mile is the better movie, is that Antwone Fisher can't be bothered with details, the brushstrokes that locate the film in the real world and give it emotional authenticity.

Perhaps 8 Mile was little more than a gloss on Eminem's persona, applied to enhance his myth and his record sales, but at least it felt real and seemed as though it were thought from the inside out. Antwone Fisher, despite being scripted by Mr. Fisher himself, seems written from the outside in, by someone who's seen all the movies but hasn't lived the life. You'd never guess that this was a personal story being told because it all appears to be lifted from somewhere else. There's the scene where Fisher (newcomer Derek Luke) goes reluctantly to his court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Davenport, (played by neophyte director Denzel Washington) and says, "I got nothing to say to you," followed by shots of a clock, passing time, and the session expiring without a peep from Fisher or his doctor. Holy Good Will Rip-off, Batman!

Another example of the film's carelessness in endowing real-life details is the way it treats Antwone Fisher's profession. He's in the Navy, apparently, because he spends his nights on an aircraft carrier. What he does in the Navy I have no idea, because the film doesn't bother to tell us. It's unclear what anyone there does, besides talk about what they're going to do when they're on leave. The lack of attention to the world around the film's characters causes them to resemble nothing more than cardboard cutouts.

And let's not even compare 8 Mile's ending to Antwone Fisher's. … Okay, let's. 8 Mile doesn't offer false heroism, or tell us what to think. Rabbit simply goes back to his job, like a responsible adult. In Antwone Fisher, we're literally told by Dr. Davenport what mighty achievements Fisher has wrought. Derek Luke in ANTWONE FISHERHe's conquered everyone who ever held him back, and made Davenport a better doctor and husband to boot. Then he salutes him. How much more self-congratulatory can a story be? Fisher insists on his heroism to an embarrassing degree.

Maybe I just don't get the point of memoirs. What compels a person to want to make money off his own life story, especially one that isn't presented as a cautionary tale or a chance to set the facts straight, but is instead a tooting of one's own horn? If it felt at all personal, I probably wouldn't be griping, but instead it smells like Oscar bait. Rather than exploring abuse and incest and its ramifications seriously, as in Tim Roth's uncompromising The War Zone, Washington and Fisher tastefully present trauma in as untraumatic a fashion as possible. No scenes are sustained to the point of discomfort. Derek Luke is unable to evince deep-rooted pain because he's short-changed by a script and direction that fail to lay the proper groundwork. We're left having to take everything on faith.

Luke is the film's strength. He's handsome, charismatic, and has a brilliant smile. Who wouldn't want to be portrayed by him? He's very good at conveying the delight in belatedly discovering one's gifts. His sheer likeability goes a long way towards easing the pain of enduring one clichéd scene after the next. Viola Davis, in her one scene, is outstanding. She's having a banner year, between this film, Solaris and Far From Heaven. Denzel Washington must have been focusing primarily on his behind-the-camera work because I've never found him so dull in front of the camera as he is in this movie. Not that his direction is particularly inspired. He's more an enabler of the story than an artist, which is fine for this type of film. Pity the story is so bland.

8 Mile is named for the road separating Detroit from its northern suburbs. It's telling that the title of the film is a geographic location, for Curtis Hanson and Scott Silver invest great care in placing this story in a specific environment. The dialogue is peppered with references to neighborhood hangouts, area codes, and legends that provide a history—you don't feel that the world begins and ends with this movie, but that the movie is a glimpse into a pre-existing world. The actors have a rich milieu to draw from, and the cast creates a believable community.Eminem in 8 MILE

The film is only marginally successful though because it suffers from a problem that also plagues Antwone Fisher. Both films, in an effort to milk our desire to root for the underdog, clearly demarcate heroes from villains, pitting the protagonist against a bevy of heavies. At the same time, the films soft-pedal their hero's troublesome personality traits (in both cases, a short temper) and endow him with wisdom that is granted to no one else. It's the same type of wisdom that you see in all those old socially conscious films (usually starring Gregory Peck), in which the hero is the only enlightened person amongst a pack of moral troglodytes. Armed with this wisdom, it's only a matter of time before Eminem or Gregory Peck demonstrates the righteousness of his actions.

But 8 Mile and Antwone Fisher are more about conquering inner demons than external gargoyles, you might say. That may be the filmmakers' intention, but they sure do a lousy job of making it convincing. In 8 Mile, the entire film's action takes place in seven days. That's one week for Rabbit to overcome his stage fright, take responsibility for his life, and mature into an adult. Meanwhile, his mother (Kim Basinger) gets evicted and subsequently wins the lottery (while kicking her deadbeat boyfriend to the curb), he finds and loses the love of a girl (Brittany Murphy), and he gets a job and a promotion (because the boss has seen his work improving!) The story is so packed with incident it loses credibility. Antwone Fisher has timeline problems of its own, mainly, that it has no concept of time whatsoever. Does the story take place over days… weeks… months? And how in the hell did his aunt round up fifty or sixty of Antwone's closest relatives during the hour or so that he spent at his mom's house?

So many inspirational stories fail because they rely on formula instead getting at what is unique about the person whose story is being told. Antwone Fisher is a perfect example of this, 8 Mile less so. The latter's ending is commendable and honest. If only the rest of the film had been as honest about its main character.

Review © December 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
ANTWONE FISHER images © 2002 Fox and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.
8 MILE Images © 2002 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.