The Hurricane

1999, Movie, R, 125 mins


There's nothing like a real-life miscarriage of justice story in which the facts are clear (at least in hindsight) and the wrong eventually righted; they're a visceral kick to the status quo with a "triumph of the human spirit" chaser. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (Denzel Washington) spent his Paterson, NJ, youth on the streets and in juvenile detention; he later channeled his anger into boxing with considerable success. In 1966 Carter was convicted of triple murder at a trial rife with perjury and high-level corruption; a second trial was equally tainted. He subsequently began corresponding with Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a Brooklyn-born teenager who'd been deeply moved by Carter's autobiography; with his socially committed, Canadian guardians, Lesra spurred an investigation that led to Carter's release. Norman Jewison's account of Carter's 22-year ordeal is heartfelt, angry and refreshingly jaundiced about the transitory nature of celebrity commitment to causes where resolution is slow in coming. But it's also awkwardly told, simultaneously too long and too short; it's another of those movies whose struggle to make concise dramatic sense of hugely complicated and protracted matters reminds us why there are books. It is, in fact, adapted from two books: Carter's autobiographical The Sixteenth Round and Lazarus and the Hurricane, which describes Lesra's and the Canadians' (nine in real life, three in the film) crusade. The film rushes through Carter's early life to get to the trial, then bogs down in his jailhouse quest for justice and, later, inner serenity. The way the Canadians are introduced makes them look like a cliched device intended to give Carter's personal ordeal larger resonance; only later does it become clear that they're real players in his story. But the material is inherently compelling and anchored by Washington's performance; if he doesn't quite capture the seething fury of the young Carter, he articulates Carter's intellectual and spiritual growth with quiet intensity. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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