movie film review | chris tookey


1999 - Universal Pictures, Inc. - all rights reserved
  Hurricane Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
7.00 /10
Rubin Carter: Denzel Washington , Lesra: Vicellous Reon Shannon, Lisa: Deborah Kara Unger
Full Cast >

Directed by: Norman Jewison
Written by: Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon. Based on The Sixteenth Round by Rubin `Hurricane' Carter and Lazarus and the Hurricane by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton

Released: 1999
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: c
Length: 125

The terrible and moving true story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (Denzel Washington), a middleweight boxing champion whose career was destroyed when he was wrongfully convicted for murdering three people in a New Jersey bar. He spent nearly two decades in prison, finding some solace by refusing to wear a uniform and writing the story of his life - The Sixteenth Round, upon which the first half of the film is based. Years into his sentence, an impressionable black teenager (Vicellous Reon Shannon) read his autobiography, purchased from a pile of old library books at a second-hand sale, and fell into correspondence with Carter. The boy then involved the three white Canadians who were his guardians (Liev Schreiber, John Hannah and Deborah Kara Unger) in the struggle to set Carter free.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The Hurricane is not for those who like their movies bright and breezy. It is a heavyweight boxing-and-prison melodrama that weighs in at over two and a half hours. It's slow-moving and unlikely to knock you out, but packs such a heavy punch that it's almost certain to bludgeon you into submission.

It is a movie worth making, however, and Norman Jewison (a Canadian with a long record of liberal films, including the Oscar-winning In The Heat of the Night) has made it with passionate conviction and a sense of injustice easy for the audience to share.

Perhaps he's too committed. The cop who set Carter up for the crime is a little too bad to be true. Dan Hedaya plays him for maximum malevolence and, after a while, it comes as a mild surprise that he doesn't grow moustachios and twirl them while attempting to tie Carter to a railroad track. He's an icon of white racism , not a plausible human being.

The Canadians who come to Carter's help are grievously under-characterised: they are just "white do-gooders", and we never even know why they all live together. In real life, by the way, there were nine of them.

The interesting and adventurous structure of the first half of the movie gives way to a duller, more conventionally linear approach as the Canadians try to uncover new evidence which might free Carter. The second half is heavily indebted to another book, Lazarus and the Hurricane, written by two of the Canadians instrumental in procuring his release; and it's all too easy to see where the Carter memoir ends and theirs begins.

The movie is very much a star vehicle for Washington, but it's not just an ego trip. This is a demanding role in every way, including physically. It requires him to age from 20 to 50. In order to carry conviction as a boxer, he lost 60 pounds and trained for a year.

No actor could have approached the part with more subtlety, power and control. At one stage, when a spell in solitary confinement has reduced Carter to a state approaching schizophrenia, Washington even gets to play three versions of himself - the angry, the loving and fearful sides.

It's Washington's best acting since his Oscar-winning turn in the American Civil War epic Glory.

Even at this length, the film gives the impression that some of the less pleasant aspects of Carter may have been glossed over. His adulterous excursions are hinted at but not explained. His wife (Debbi Morgan) is depicted with annoying superficiality. After a prison-visiting scene between the couple that is one of the film's highlights (mainly because of Washington's astonishing acting) she promises never to give up on him but promptly disappears from the film, along with Carter's child, with whom we never see him even attempt a relationship.

Jewison's approach to the material is passionate but prosaic. The symbolism and bludgeoning sound effects of doors being slammed and locked are a tad obvious. The black-and-white boxing sequences, though capably handled, are too obviously indebted to Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull.

For all its faults, it's worth seeing. Where the film rivals another fine prison movie, The Shawshank Redemption, is the way it shows an individual refusing to allow prison to destroy his spirit. Jewison skilfully allows us to respect Carter's hatred for the whites who conspired against him, but also his Nelson Mandela-like stoicism in the face of constant provocation.

The message is spelt out memorably by Washington from inside his prison cell: "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out."

The Hurricane is not quite a great movie, still less a thought-provoking analysis of racism. It's simplistic, and descends too often into a bad cop versus good victim yarn... It's schmaltzy, with a soundtrack that constantly overeggs the emotional pudding, especially towards the end. But it's an engrossing, moving and ultimately uplifting depiction of the human spirit overcoming adversity.

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