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
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