There are similar stories like the one told in Antwone Fisher. Stories of young men and women who have been neglected and who come to military service because it might be their last chance at something positive in their lives. I remember some of those people when I did my own service in the military. Their option in many cases was an "Army or Jail." In the supplemental material, the real Antwone Fisher mentions that what impressed him about the service was the ability to do things that he would never have done before. The opportunity to be given a responsible duty or task, and the trust that people gave him to do it, did wonders for him. It also did wonders for those whom I had the chance to know when I was in. Yet while the stories might be similar, I'm not sure how many of them had quite the adversarial journey that Fisher seemed to run into.
In a surprising move, the amateur Fisher wrote the screenplay for the film, and the material managed to lure Denzel Washington (Training Day) into directing his first film. In this small independent joint, he also had to appear in the film as Fisher's counselor to secure financing from the studio. Fisher's life story is compelling in and of itself. Born to a woman in prison, and whose father was murdered before he was born, Antwone was shuffled around in foster homes, eventually becoming the loving property of Mr. and Mrs. Tate. They are hardly loving and welcoming as we find out later. Mrs. Tate physically beat Antwone and his foster brothers, and the Tate's daughter sexually abused Antwone. He eventually was thrown out and forced to live on the streets, and eventually joined the Navy. Antwone continually got into fights because of anger issues, and was ordered to see somebody for it. This brings us to Washington, who plays Commander Davenport. He seems to have a nice life and has a loving wife, though there appears to be some trouble brewing under the surface. Davenport takes the young Fisher under his care, even after the military obligation to see him has ended, and finds out about Antwone's troubles. Davenport eventually encourages Fisher to find his real family, as that will bring some closure to many of these ordeals. With the help of his girlfriend Cheryl (Joy Bryant, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins), he does just that, and not only does he get that closure, but he also finds out just how much he's wanted in the world.
The role of Fisher went to Derek Luke, who recently played P. Diddy in the biopic Notorious, but at that point, had never appeared in a motion picture before, much less in a starring role. He helped use a friendship with Fisher (who at the time was a security guard at Sony studios) to an emotionally riveting performance. It helped secure breakout stardom for the actor and an Independent Spirit award. I know this because I watched the awards ceremony that day, and his acceptance speech was arguably the most joyous and heartfelt I'd seen. Washington provides a pleasant supporting foil as Davenport, but the movie's journey belongs to Luke. He does it with equal parts of shame, rage, innocence and finally maturity, that you'd be amazed that someone of his age could pull it off. It's a role that landed perfectly in the actor's lap, and he knocked it out of the park.
In addition, Washington makes a subtle point of letting the viewer know in to what the military offers. It does provide a support system for those who are in similar situations to voice their concerns. While it does take courage and initiative for them to make the leaps that Antwone does, when you're young and in the service, there's a whole world out there. It's in front of you and there for you to take. But before he can move on with that next phase of his life, he has to reconcile the last one, one that robbed him of his childhood innocence. It's painful, but Washington pulls no punches. To know that Antwone made it out the other side of the tunnel wiser for it makes the journey all the more amazing.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents Antwone Fisher in 2.35:1 widescreen glory, showing it off with the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Fox puts the average bitrate on the back of the discs, but even if they didn't, you could see the film is shot beautifully. Philippe Rousselot, who served as Director of Photography on the film (and previously won an Oscar for A River Runs Through It) presents the Naval sequences in San Diego with cool blues while the Cleveland home of Antwone gets some drab grays. The beginning sequence with Antwone as a boy looks excellent, shot in a field with grain that possesses a surprising amount of depth and detail to it. Fleshtones are rendered accurately, and blacks look deep and provide a solid contrast, especially during one sequence when Fisher recalls a key moment of his life, and the background fades to black. Film grain is present but is hardly a distraction to the film, and the overall result on high definition makes it a clear upgrade from the standard definition version.
As usual, Fox gives its catalog titles the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless treatment, and the results here aren't bad. Aside from a gunshot early on that shows Antwone's father being murdered, most of the film is dialogue-driven. The dialogue sounds strong in the center channel without any balance or fading issues, and any scenes of energy give the rear channels a chance to step in (during the ship sequence for one), without any problems. The subwoofer stays dormant for the run of the film which I expected, but this is an otherwise solid sonic presentation.
Washington and producer Todd Black join up for a commentary that's a little on the underwhelming side. Denzel recalls some occasional events which occurred on the day, but Black provides the most production detail and is almost a little more anecdotal in delivery than Denzel. Washington discusses the casting choices and some of the scenic intentions, and how he approached the film and its production schedule. Black talks about the money issue which affected the production from time to time and fills in some of the gaps that Denzel leaves behind, but there's still this silence between the two as they periodically watch the film. It felt like the commentary was a little forced; weird, but worth checking out for a moment. The remaining extras include "Meeting Antwone Fisher" (14:12), which features interview footage from the man himself. As I mentioned at the beginning, Fisher covers why he liked the Navy as much as he did, and recalls how he started writing the story before it was picked up by Fox Searchlight. The story's quest to be made is recounted, and the piece includes thoughts on the man by the cast and crew. He's a soft-spoken man, but it's no less an interesting story. The making-of look (22:16) focuses on the production and what everyone thought of the material, along with their thoughts on Denzel the director. Luke and Fisher talk about their friendship in separate segments, and Luke's unique (and really cool) story about getting the role are recalled. But past that, it's your standard look at the production. "Hollywood and the Navy" (4:41) looks at how the Department of Defense cooperated with the film even after the events of September 11, and Fisher talks about this part of his life a little bit more as well. The trailer (2:34) rounds 'er out.
Based on the story alone, Antwone Fisher is mandatory if you ever find yourself questioning your abilities or potential. A human being, seemingly forgotten by almost everyone in his life, still manages to make something with the life he still has. That type of story warms even the coldest of hearts. That triump should be rewarded and seen by as many people as possible. For the double-dippers in the crowd, the extras are presumed ports from the standard definition disc, and the technical qualities are improvements, so if you have the standard def copy, fire away.