"The Hurricane"

Denzel Washington is stellar as Rubin Carter; too bad the story around him lapses into predictable drama.


Suzy Hansen
July 27, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

"The Hurricane"
Directed by Norman Jewison
Starring Denzel Washington, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Deborah Kara Unger, John Hannah, Liev Schreiber, Dan Hedaya
Universal; widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Cast and crew commentary, soundtrack, cast and crew bios, photos, movie trailer

Last year Denzel Washington saved a movie that should have been great even without him. "The Hurricane" is based on the true story of Rubin Carter, a boxer who was on his way to the middleweight title when he was pinned for a crime he didn't commit. Carter wasn't just an innocent man, though; he was an innocent black man fingered by a belligerent white detective and convicted on flimsy evidence by a white jury for shooting three white people in a racially stratified New Jersey town during the tentative stages of the civil rights era. The movie focuses on the rest of Carter's life -- his years in a New Jersey prison, his monastic existence and his burgeoning friendship with a young boy who's determined to free him, and who succeeds, with the help of three Canadian hippies. Stories don't get much better -- or more profoundly American -- than this.

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Unfortunately, every character but Carter is shallow, mostly because of a screenplay that runs out of time. Jewison sets up a tone of both faith and despair with his black-and-white re-creations of the boxing matches (admittedly modeled after those in "Raging Bull"), his tender depiction of Carter's unjust childhood and his artful handling of Carter's pain and fury. But sometime after Carter's first meeting with young Lesra, his savior, the movie is all action and predictable drama, and it no longer feels gritty and true.

Except, of course, for Washington, who seethes with resentment, anguish and pride. When he leaves prison for the first time in the movie, as a younger man, and swaggers defiantly out into the sunlight, he is the silent figure of an indestructible being. Washington carries that presence with him throughout the film.

From the DVD extras, we learn that Washington lost 60 pounds for the part, that there were actually nine Canadians who worked on the case and that young Lesra is now a successful lawyer in British Columbia. Many of the details -- about Washington as Carter, and about Lesra and the Canadians -- are typed up on-screen. The Collector's Edition also includes audio commentary with Jewison, a making-of feature and deleted scenes.

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Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, a former editor at Salon, is an editor at the New York Observer.

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