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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

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Review by Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

Here comes the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer who was framed for a murder he didn't commit and spent the next 22 years fighting to prove his innocence. Carter's story was first made famous through Bob Dylan's song, which resonates throughout the film, but The Hurricane continues the story up to the present day.

Writers Dan Gordon and Armyan Bernstein take numerous liberties with the truth, changing many of the facts for dramatic purposes. In the process, The Hurricane becomes a powerful howl of outrage against the volatile climate of racial tension and intolerance that led to a blatant miscarriage of justice. Director Norman Jewison has explored these themes before, most notably in the Oscar winning classic In The Heat Of The Night and A Soldier's Story, and his obvious passion shapes this epic film into an overtly manipulative yet compelling and moving experience.

The fight to clear his name is taken up in earnest when the barely literate 13 year old Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon, a regular on tv series Dangerous Minds, etc) purchases a copy of Carter's autobiography for 25 cents at a book sale. Lesra has been taken under the wing of three liberal Canadians (Liev Schreiber, Deborah Kara Unger, from Crash, etc, and Sliding Doors' John Hannah), who take him from the slums of Brooklyn to improve his education. Inspired by Carter's book, Lesra begins a correspondence with the imprisoned boxer that changes both their lives. Embittered and disillusioned by his experience, Carter (superbly played by Denzel Washington in one of the best performances of his career) begins to trust the young Lesra, and an unlikely but ultimately inspiring friendship develops. Convinced by Lesra's belief in Carter's innocence, his three guardians begin to investigate the case themselves, hoping to find the crucial evidence that will overturn the wrongful conviction.

They are dealing with a case in which the tainted evidence is firmly buried in the past. Many key witnesses are long dead, and some of the remaining players, like corrupt racist cop Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya), want to ensure it remains closed. Eventually the three amateur sleuths triumph, as Federal Court Judge Sarokin (Rod Steiger) overturns the conviction and sets Carter free.

Unlike other more conventional biopics about champion boxers (Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Greatest, and Martin Scorsese's blistering Raging Bull, etc) The Hurricane is as much as a powerful prison drama, with overtones of The Shawshank Redemption, and a stirring quest for justice as it is the story of a fighter who could have been the champion of the world. Jewison has taken a leaf out of Scorsese's book, and had veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins film the brutal boxing scenes in glorious black and white.

But The Hurricane is not merely the story of Carter's search for justice and redemption - it is also Lesra's story. Jewison draws wonderful parallels between the pair - one imprisoned by racial hatred and prejudice and searching for justice, the other largely imprisoned by the impoverishment of his background and struggling for direction. However, some of the peripheral characters, such as Hedaya's corrupt cop and the three Canadians, are clumsily sketched and remain largely stereotyped and ill-defined The stellar cast struggle against an often impoverished script to bring their underdeveloped characters to life.

Fittingly enough, The Hurricane is Washington's film, and his powerful presence dominates the screen. He brings an innate sense of dignity to every role he plays, but here he also brings a palpable sense of anger and vehemence to his powerful performance. Washington is thoroughly convincing in a complex role that requires him to age some 20 years and run a gamut of emotions. Steiger's brief appearance as the judge is certainly flamboyant, but, thankfully, less erratic than his recent scene stealing turn in a similar role in the recent Crazy In Alabama.

With The Hurricane, Jewison wears his heart openly on his sleeve, which leads to some moments that are manipulative, clichéd and saccharine. However, it's a measure of Jewison's earnest and impassioned approach that Carter can utter a line as potentially clichéd as "Hate put me in this prison, but love is going to set me free" and reduce an audience to tears rather than howls of derision.

Copyright © 2000 Greg King

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