Directed by Norman Jewison
Review by Matt Heffernan
A common theme for films is an innocent person in prison. Just in the last five months there have been Brokedown Palace, Double Jeopardy, and The Green Mile. The last one of 1999 is also the best, mostly because it was based on a compelling true story.
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (Denzel Washington) was a world champion boxer from Paterson, New Jersey. In 1966, while still at the top of his sport, he was falsely accused for murder, along with John Artis (Garland Whitt), who just happened to be driving him home when he was arrested. Since he was 11 years old, he had spent his life in and out of jail, mostly because of Vincent Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya), a corrupt and racist detective for the Paterson Police Department. This time he managed to put Rubin away for good.
In the early 1980's, a teenage boy named Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon) bought a used copy of Rubin's memoirs, The 16th Round, which he wrote after several years in prison. It had a profound impact on Lesra, who also had troubled childhood while growing up in a ghetto in Brooklyn. He was brought to Toronto by Sam (Liev Schrieber), Lisa (Deborah Kara Unger), and Terry (John Hannah) who taught him how to read so that he could graduate high school and go on to college. Lesra was so moved by that book (the first one he ever bought) that he started writing to Rubin, and even started visiting him in New Jersey. After Rubin loses another chance for an appeal with the state, Lesra convinces his Canadian guardians to help him get a federal hearing with new evidence.
With The Hurricane, Norman Jewison shows that he is still a top director, making his best film since Moonstruck. He keeps the stories of Rubin and Lesra moving quite well through a good two hours of the film. Until a rather heavy-handed ending, this powerful story is allowed to find life on the screen, thanks to Washington's great performance. He was so wonderful, I actually managed to forget the pain of watching The Bone Collector.
I must admit, however, that I was somewhat troubled by Hedaya's character. He played it well, but it was almost too demonic, making it difficult to believe that such a person existed. Quite possibly, he was demonized to have a stronger villian for the film, but in this case I don't think it was necessary. Racism is a sneaky evil, and it usually appears in a more subtle form. Otherwise, the characterizations are all well done, even if they all have to be angelic to keep balance.
Certainly the Hollywood Foreign Press association preferred this take on the "wrong man" theme. They have nominated it for three Golden Globes, including Best Dramatic Actor for Washington, who will be the only serious competition for Kevin Spacey's inspired turn in American Beauty. You should definitely look for the same battle come Oscar time.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Hurricane (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan