The Hurricane (1999)

THE HURRICANE is a lot to weather.  Director Norman Jewison's butt-
numbing (though at times absolutely absorbing) Denzel Washington-
starring bio-pic is based on the true story of Rubin "Hurricane" 
Carter, a black boxing champ who was wrongfully imprisoned for mur-
der from 1966 to 1985.  The 140-minute flick is divided into three 
distinct sections, the first and most agreeable is a fifteen-minute 
prologue that juxtaposes one of Carter's matches with his prepping 
for a fight with the prison guards.  (They want to "toss" his cell 
and, thus, might find the manuscript he's writing.)  Flash forward a 
few years and a used copy of Carter's now-published book has fallen 
into the hands of a black teenager (Vicellous Shannon).  He's an 
American ghetto kid who has been taken in by three white Canadians 
who are teaching him to read in preparation for college.  (Liev 
Schreiber, Deborah Unger, and SLIDING DOORS' John Hannah as said do-
gooders.)  Here, in what comprises about the first hour of screen 
time, the film farts around with flashbacks and a recreation of the 
murder that was pinned on Carter.  Then back to the framing device.  
Then back to flashbacks of Carter.  And with plenty of soulful music 
strategically cued for maximum morose effect.  (Through all this, 
Washington's portrait of Carter never strays from being gripping.  
It's everything *else* that largely distracts.)

Somewhere in the second hour, the characters in the framing device 
finally meet the character of the flashbacks.  Everybody hugs and is 
moved to tears.  Or, at least, big-eyed expressions.  Then the Can-
ucks inexplicably move to Jersey, to help with the now decades-long 
appeals process.  Regrettably, this means yet *another* recreation 
of the murder.  Yawn.  And, more problematic, a conspiracy angle 
that *talks* of High Stakes and Important People and, yet, only ever 
reveals this old, bitter, racist cop (Dan Hedaya, in crummy old-age 
make-up).  This guy is *still* carrying a grudge?  And he has the 
motivation-- much less the *means*-- to try to inflict bodily harm 
on Carter's newfound friends?  Eh, were we less aware of our achin' 
butts, we might not notice.  Nor might we take to wonderin' what the 
*real* facts of the case are.  (There's gotta be a healthy amount of 
dramatization and/or simplification here...)  At least the finale is 
somewhat grand-- a big, all-or-nothing federal trial with ol' Rod 
Steiger chewin' scenery from behind the bench.  He's fun to watch, 
especially in contrast to the strength-sapping seriousness of Wash-
ington.  Or the dreadfully bland Canadian characters.  (The kid's a 
gem, though.  He's full of natural, honest energy.  Too bad he mum-
bles half his lines...)  And then the credits role, with eight or 
ten title cards explaining what ultimately happened to whom.  And 
everybody in the audience leaves smiling, either because they loved 
the movie or they're just happy to done doin' hard time.  (Rated 
"R"/140 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: Black Eye

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