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The Hurricane

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Hurricane

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Hannah
Director: Norman Jewison
Rated: R
RunTime: 139 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genres: Drama, Sports

*Also starring: David Paymer, Liev Schreiber, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Rod Steiger, Deborah Unger, Dan Hedaya

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

Norman Jewison's attachment to racial issues in film is hardly new for the great director. Before 'The Hurricane', he has tackled the issue with two of Hollywood's more under appreciated films, 'In the Heat of the Night' and 'A Soldier's Story' (which helped Denzel Washington gain major recognition). Neither film made the 1998 list of 100 greatest films as selected by the American Film Institute and the latter wasn't even a nominee in the final 400 nominees out of 40,000 American films from the first century of film 1896-1996. In fact, from 'The Cincinnati Kid' to 'Fiddler on the Roof' to 'Moonstruck', Jewison didn't get a film on the final 100 list and that's a travesty. As a fellow countryman from Canada, I admire Jewison's trek to get international recognition and he still may win an Oscar one day. But 'The Hurricane' won't earn him one. This is an absorbing but slow moving motion picture that only has one great performance from a cast that could have performed in top fashion but didn't.

Many films have one great performance that save them from failure. Michael Douglas' Oscar winning performance in 1987's 'Wall Street' (the film received no other Oscar nominations) was the only thing that helped the film fight off charges that it was a sexist and chauvinistic portrayal of high rollers in the financial world. The film was also criticized for its nasty portrayal of bankers and stock traders as all being evil, weak minded or completely greedy. Jack Palance's Oscar win in the 1991 caper 'City Slickers' (the film received no other Oscar nominations) was more than a career award. In my opinion, Palance truly deserved to win but many thought it was a year in which the Oscar then should have gone to Anthony Hopkins in the supporting category for 'The Silence of the Lambs' (Hopkins WON in the lead best actor category for having less than half an hour on screen in a two hour film) and to Warren Beatty in 'Bugsy' in the leading actor category. And finally, Marisa Tomei's performance in 1992's 'My Cousin Vinny' earned her a best supporting actress Oscar and the film, again, received no other Oscar nominations.

At the time of this review, Denzel Washington stands alone in this film as the only Oscar nominee. He is nominated in the best actor category for 'The Hurricane' and stands a good chance of winning. His courageous performance as a man standing almost alone against the system is one that reminded me of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in 1993's 'In the Name of the Father' as a man wrongly sent to prison.

In 'The Hurricane' Denzel Washington portrays Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter. In the late 1960's, he was on his way to a glorious and successful boxing career before it ended tragically at the satanic hands of racism. The film states that a New Jersey police officer name Det. Vincent Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya) helped frame Carter in a multiple murder case and sent him to prison for over 20 years before Carter had any real chance for his case to be heard with new evidence. Della Pesca had a run-in with Carter when Carter was a little boy as Carter was brought in for assault (actually self defense) at about the age of 10. It was as situation where the boy looked guilty but was very much innocent.

Carter writes a book about his trials and tribulations and many years after his incarceration, Carter's book about his unjust prison sentence finds its way into the hands of Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a young black teenager from Brooklyn, New York whose parents are alcoholics and Lesra is adopted by a group of young Canadian commune individuals from Toronto, Ontario, and is in part, raised by them in learning how to read and write and be sent off to college to pursue his dream of becoming an attorney.

Lesra's passion is to meet Rubin Carter face to face in prison and tell him that he believes in his cause and offers to help fight his conviction with the help of his Canadian pals. Their investigation sheds new light on Carter's possible innocence and the information is presented before the law for serious consideration.

Denzel Washington does it again. He plays a real life character as he did in his first Oscar nominated role as Steven Biko in 1987's 'Cry Freedom' and his only other Oscar nomination in a leading role to date is for 1992's 'Malcolm X'. Washington lets the layers of his acting ability do the talking like other actors such as Gene Hackman, Nicolas Cage and Tom Hanks who all use very little if no make-up and rely on good old fashioned academics to enhance a movie. As Rubin Carter, Washington has many points in the film where he flat out carries the film himself. 'The Hurricane' is long, drawn out and worth one viewing as far as I'm concerned but Denzel Washington does his job and the film only thrives when he's on screen and many would argue he's absent in this film a bit too much. Still worth a marginal recommendation, however, for Washington's amazing performance.

OUT OF 5 > * * * 1/2

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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