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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 UK Critic
3 stars out of 4

We all have talents that mystify other people -- some folks can work complex equations in their heads, others can run for miles without getting short of breath, and we all know some show-off who can cartwheel like there's no tomorrow. I can't do any of that stuff, but I do know Bob Dylan's eight-minute ballad "Hurricane" off by heart. Impressive, eh?

The song is the first track on Dylan's 1975 album "Desire", and tells the story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a black middleweight boxer from New Jersey who angered intolerant locals with his cocky handling of success. In 1966, when the authorities saw a chance to frame him for murder, they jumped at it. "How can the life of such a man be in the palm of some fool's hand?" Dylan asked, and for quite some time Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali and a whole host of other celebrities and activists were equally concerned.

Despite his status as a cause célèbre, though, it took twenty years for Carter and his co-defendant to be released from prison. When they were, according to Norman Jewison's film "The Hurricane", it was largely due to the efforts of a commune of Canadians and a young boy they were schooling. The kid, Lesra Martin (Viscellous Reon Shannon), had bought Carter's autobiography for twenty-five cents at a used book sale. This event changed the course of both his life and that of the fighter.

Carter (Denzel Washington), as Lesra discovers from his reading and we learn in the film, had an upbringing heavily influenced by racial persecution, and vowed to make weapons out of his body and mind. In prison, his shell grows harder, and he becomes a vessel of mistrust and hate. "There's no more Rubin Carter," he says in his book. To his wife: "I'm dead. Move on. Bury me."

Somehow Lesra is able to strike up a correspondence with him; he DOES feel alive when he's writing, because he doesn't have to look at the dehumanising prison walls. The communication develops into friendship and love, and results in the boy and his surrogate family dedicating their lives to Carter's appeal. One of the most involving things about "The Hurricane" is how it demonstrates the power of the written word -- showing that it can free souls, stimulate emotions and overcome violence and evil. Another is its portrayal of how Rubin, who had so thoroughly trained himself to use hatred as a means of survival, earned liberation by having the courage to feel love and trust.

This is fantastic material -- the kind of thing we're talking about when we refer to "triumphs of the human spirit". It's regrettable that Jewison has not presented it with more panache. Gone is the powerful staccato rhythm of Dylan, and instead we get such ludicrous dialogue as "You're going down, punk!" and "Jeez... you're having a smoke for breakfast?" There are tears, speeches behind bars and far too much sentimental scoring. Dan Hedaya gives a ludicrous performance as a corrupt cop who lurks in corners grimacing and growling.

The movie is made with such lack of edge that at times it runs the risk of alienating us, like a made-for-TV weepie. But the story somehow survives, and remains potent, and that is a testament to how great a tale it is. Just as 'Hurricane' himself championed over oppressive forces, so too does his legend transcend a sloppy telling, and remain one worth knowing.

Copyright © 2000 UK Critic

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