With his cooler-than-thou shades and a quick smile that's a testament to his easygoing demeanor, director Antoine Fuqua looks more like a leading man than a man who leads the team. Nevertheless, the music video and commercial director-turned-feature-film visionary has continually impressed moviegoers ever since bringing Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat to American audiences with his flashy feature debut, The Replacement Killers (1998). A native of Pittsburgh, Fuqua cut his teeth in film by directing videos for such artists as Arrested Development, Prince, and Toni Braxton, and the tell-tale signs of admitted influence Tony Scott could clearly be seen even in these early works. Commercials for Reebok and Toyota found Fuqua continuing to develop his strong sense of style, and in 1998, he finally earned his first feature-film credit with The Replacement Killers. A loud, flashy, and exciting journey through the criminal underworld, the film was initially dismissed as an exercise in style over substance, despite the fact that it was an undeniably enjoyable action romp. Though his subsequent follow up, Bait (2000), an action comedy starring comic Jamie Foxx, disappeared quickly from the box office, it was Fuqua's next film that would prove that he could also paint interesting and compelling characters. Though the good-cop/bad-cop routine had been played out through and through by the time Training Day hit theaters in 2001, the combination of David Ayer's smart script, Fuqua's assured direction, and powerhouse performances by lead actors Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke created one of the most arresting police dramas of its time. In addition to substantially boosting its director's reputation, Training Day earned lead actors Washington and Hawke both Academy Award nominations -- with Washington taking home the Oscar for Best Actor. Though Fuqua's follow-up, the bombastic action thriller Tears of the Sun (2003), was greeted at the box office with little fanfare, his return to feature territory promised better results. As Fuqua's most expensive production to date, King Arthur -- a historical drama detailing the life of the eponymous leader of the Knights of the Round Table -- netted mixed reviews but grossed healthy box office.
For Fuqua, the 2004 documentary Lightning in a Bottle -- a massive blues homage whose participants included B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and Dr. John -- represented not merely a shift in genre, but a shift in form per se (a documentary, not a feature)
where the generally flashy director toned things down a bit to investigate the history of one of America's most beloved musical styles. Unsurprisingly, it reeled in glowing critical praise and even suggested a shift in direction on Fuqua's part; within a few years, however, the helmer cut back to basics for a far more conventional project - the action saga Shooter (2007), about an out-of-commission sniper (Mark Wahlberg) reeled back into service and then scapegoated by the cruel manipulations of the United States government. He directed the 2009 cop drama Brooklyn's Finest, assembling a cast that included Richard Gere and Don Cheadle as boys in blue dealing with various ethical and personal issues.