Denzel Washington, in his debut as a director, delivers a solid piece of craftsmanship: the true story of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), a young sailor who is sent to Navy psychiatrist Jerome Davenport (Washington) to work out anger issues stemming from his abusive childhood. Newcomer Luke cuts to the heart as Antwone, Joy Bryant shines as his girlfriend, and Novella Nelson is scarily good as the foster parent who raised Antwone when his mother abandoned him.
The uniformly fine performances are a tribute to Washington, who plays the shrink with his customary command. But the parallel plot about the doc's problems with his wife (Salli Richardson) weakens the script that Fisher (a former security guard for Sony Pictures) has adapted from his autobiography. Still, the emotional payoff is undeniable.
Critics have already compared the film to A Beautiful Mind, sparking Oscar talk that unfairly raises expectations. Antwone Fisher is best when it sticks to home truths instead of the Hollywood version. The bloat of hype does this becomingly small film no favors.