Denzel Washington produces another dignified and potent performance in Hurricane - the true(ish) story of a wrongly convicted could-have-been-a-contender boxer Rubin Carter, otherwise know as Hurricane.Rubin Carter had been in petty trouble since being a boy. Through his troubles he had often come across Detective Vincent Pesca (Hedaya) - a cop who was more than quick to harass a black man - and they developed a rivalry. In adulthood, Carter vowed to turn away from his troubled youth to join the army, and then later became a professional boxer where he picked up the name Hurricane.
Late one night two men murder three people in a bar. The police including Pesca go on a hunt for, "any two Negro men" which leads to Pesca confronting Carter. With some bribery of witnesses and evidence falsification, Carter is convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences along with John Artis (Whitt) who happened to be in the car when Carter was first questioned. While in jail Carter writes a book of his story.
Years later Lesra (Shannon), a ward of three Canadian so-so-socialist activists, picks up the book at a fair and, after reading the book, meets with Carter and vows to set him free.
The incarcerated innocent searching for justice is a well-worn theme (The Green Mile and The Insider are recent examples), but Washington’s performance and the avoidance of out and out soppiness in Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon’s script allows for a commendable film.
Washington is at his best as he delved deeply into this role to become Carter. I was thankful to see this portrayal of an intelligent black man after the condescension of John Coffey in The Green Mile. Apart from Washington, the cast is excellent with Shannon and Hedaya as Carter’s rival also standing out.
Norman Jewison directs the film with good pace and admirably prevents the film from being a teary weeper as it could easily have been. The film stops being a cliched mess because it is just as much about institutional racism, vendettas, the power of intelligence and the refusal to accept an unjust fate (which provides the link between Carter and Lesra that bonds them), as being about fighting for freedom.
Movies can never cover everything, but there are some interesting facts that were not covered in the movie. It was almost a year between the murders and Carter and Artis actually being arrested. The original conviction was overturned and a second trial ordered with Carter and Artis being released.
The second trial reconvicted them and sent them back to jail. To be sent back to jail after Carter thought he was free must have been soul destroying. There was also three years between when Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin finally quashed the conviction for the last time and when Carter was actually released (in the film it takes about a minute).
There’s just an annoying feeling in the back of my head about three middle class white do-gooders with sensible haircuts saving a black man. I know it’s based on real life, but there’s something about it that leaves the slightest hint of something I don’t like.Hurricane’s success is mostly thanks to Washington’s performance, Jewison’s direction and restraint. Hurricane is celebration cinema - not just of a freedom fight - but the victory of intelligence over prejudice.