Rated R - Running Time: 2:35 - Released 12/29/99

The Hurricane is based on the true story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a prizefighter who was convicted in 1966 of a murder he didn't commit, and spent 19 years in prison before being exonerated and released. The fact that the film's screenplay is taken from Carter's own autobiographical novel and another novel by two of his closest supporters is a good explanation of why it is so melodramatic; Carter's story is certainly a moving one, but it might seem a bit less preachy if not told by its main characters. At times the injustice is a little too much to believe. However, the talent of Denzel Washington helps to bring this film up to the credibility level it needs to succeed. Also excellent is Vicellous Reon Shannon as the teenager who helped lead "Hurricane" to freedom. Director Norman Jewison leads these two actors to a relationship that is moving and yet believable; his adroit style helps overcome the weaknesses of the screenplay.

The story of "Hurricane" Carter is one of those classic sagas in the annals of American race relations. This up-and-coming fighter, on his way to becoming one of the greats of the sport, was cut down in his prime by a murder conviction that was eventually shown to be racially motivated and full of discrepancies and altered evidence. A pair of black men were seen fleeing the scene of a fatal shooting in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, Carter (Washington) and another man, John Artis (Garland Whitt), were picked up and charged with the murders. Soon they were serving three life sentences apiece in Trenton State Prison, and despite numerous appeals and a second jury trial in 1976, they were unable to turn the verdict around. After that, Carter's marriage to his wife Mae Thelma (Debbi Morgan) broke up, and he found himself truly alone.

Just when he was about to give up hope and resign himself to spending the rest of his days behind bars, he received a letter from a young man named Lesra Martin (Shannon), who had read Carter's novel and become obsessed with the fighter's story. Lesra was a black American teenager living in Canada with a group of activists who had taken him under their collective wing and were teaching him to read and preparing him for college. Soon Lesra's interest in the Carter case had spread to his adult friends Sam (Liev Schreiber), Lisa (Deborah Unger), and Terry (John Hannah), and the group decided to move to New Jersey to research the case and investigate another possible re-trial. Collaborating with Carter's defense attorneys, Myron Bedlock (David Paymer) and Leon Friedman (Harris Yulin), they eventually took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where its previous decision was overturned by Judge H. Lee Sorokin (Rod Steiger) and Carter was released.

The most noticeable flaw in The Hurricane's script that holds it back from being a total success is the caricaturish portrayal of Carter's nemesis, Detective Vincent Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya). Della Pesca's open hostility toward Carter and his overt manipulation of evidence and witnesses takes away from the credibility of the story. In the final credits, there is a statement that "while this film is based on a true story, some characters have been composited or invented, and some events fictionalized." I daresay Hedaya's character is an all too clear indication of this alteration of the facts. Otherwise, The Hurricane is a thoughtful, moving story, and a triumph for Jewison, Washington, and Carter himself. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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