By Fred McIntosh
Denzel Washington, Vicellous Shannon, Deborah Unger, John Hannah, Live Schrieber, Dan Hedaya, David Paymer, Rod Steiger, Clancy Brown, Harris Yulin and Debbi Morgan|
||Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon|
|Director of Photography
||Universal Studios, Inc|
||The Sixteenth Round, by Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and Lazarus and the Hurricane, by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton|
In 1966, boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (played as an adult by Denzel Washington) and a companion, were arrested and convicted of murder in Carter's hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. The Hurricane, which opened in theaters in December 1999, tells the story of Carter's 19-year fight to prove his innocence, as well as examining the man's hard luck life experience that led him to the penitentiary.
Carter, who spent most of his childhood in juvenile detention facilities, ends up joining the service, learning how to box, and ascending to the upper tier of prize fighting by the early 60's. An intelligent, stubborn, disciplined man, Carter just can't seem to avoid trouble and on the night of his arrest is on his way home to his wife and young child at 2:30 in the morning after a night of partying. Nevertheless, Hurricane is not a murderer, and only a severely tainted series of judicial proceedings puts and keeps him behind bars. Carter perseveres -- refusing to wear standard prison attire, or eat prison food and training his mind not to consider himself imprisoned.
He writes a book about his story, which touches the life of young Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon) who, along with his Canadian caretakers, Terry, Sam and Lisa (John Hannah, Liev Schreiber and Deborah Unger) make it their life's mission to free Carter. And, of course, they ultimately succeed.
The Hurricane is virtually bursting with historical inaccuracies, which makes Washington's performance all the more remarkable. The movie downplays the negative aspects of Carter's personality; his drinking and womanizing, and his history of criminal conduct. It also ascribes much more credit for Carter's release to the Canadians than they in fact deserved. However, Washington stands tall. The glint in his eyes cues the viewer in to the tremendous complexity of the man that we would not glean from the story alone. Washington's enormous presence makes him a wonder, not only to the viewer, but also to his fellow actors. He virtually towers over them in every scene.
Director Norman Jewison does a great job of filming the boxing scenes and allowing Washington to command the screen, however the direction of the film is rather ordinary and there is no real character development other than Carter's. Fortunately, the performance of the lead is enough to make this a truly powerful, compelling story. I feel fortunate to have seen it.