by Jason Morrison
Here comes the story of the hurricane.
What a great way to start a movie trailer. An incredibly catchy line from a Bob Dylan song. If you've been to a theater in the last few months, you've probably had it stuck in your head at least once.
But if you happen to listen to the rest of the song, you'll notice something. The lyrics aren't very imaginative, and the melody just doesn't really click except for that one line. Like the film, what starts out great ends up sounding, well, a little silly.
Hurricane stars Denzel Washington as Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a promising middleweight boxer put into prison for a crime he didn't commit. The whole story could be left right there if not for the circumstances of his arrest and the story of his eventual release.
Carter grew up in Patterson, New Jersey, and was in and out of trouble from when he was just a kid. At 11 he was sent to juvenile, though he escaped to join the military. When he came back from the service he was nabbed and put back in jail. There he decided to turn his body into a weapon, and never have his freedom taken from him again.
Out of jail, he quickly boxed his way to title shots. This didn't exactly please the local authorities, Detective Vincent Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya) in particular, and when a questionable witness pegged a white car with two blacks as the perpetrators of a murder, they pinned it on him.
Carter ended up in jail despite the ludicrous lack of evidence, and the 1960s era all-white jury didn't help things any. He became a focus of civil rights activism, but his appeals were denied-his case made the careers of a number of New Jersey lawyers and judges. He decided to keep his freedom by denying his captors their control; he choose not leave his cell, forgot about the outside world and read voraciously, eventually writing a book.
Fast forward. Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a boy plucked out of the ghetto by some well-meaning Canadians, finds the book at a used book sale. He reads the story and it speaks to him. He asks his guardians if he can write Carter, and Carter writes back. They exchange letters, and Lesra even comes down to meet him, eventually bringing his Canadians with him. They decide to fight for Carter, to get him out of jail.
This is where the movie goes goofy. Up until this point, the story has been told through Carter's eyes as Lesra reads the book. Washington is a great actor, and through the first half of the film he gives a great performance. We feel Carter's struggle, his incredulity, his discipline. His ability to create a pocket of freedom inside the jail walls; his command to his wife to forget him, he's dead to her; his survival in solitary confinement. The ensuing interaction between Carter and Lesra is a powerful story as well-Lesra reads about Carter's life and feels guilty for getting the Canadians' help, and Carter lets hope creep back into his heart when he meets the boy.
But the struggle to free him goes limp. The Canadians show up in New Jersey, are threatened once by Della Pesca, find new evidence with little real difficulty, the wheel falls off their car, then bamn, they're in court. Not only do we lose Washington's powerful presence for much of this, not only is the story strikingly less probing, but goofy little touches here and there just ruin it. The trio put up evidence, news clips, etc. on a wall as they search-okay, fine. But as they go over different parts of the case, they pin the word "LIAR"-carefully stenciled-on the wall under the liar's names. What the heck is that? What's next, "ALIBY" macaroni pictures? And the other characters mention the fact that the three are Canadians in wholly inappropriate circumstances. Twice they're told that "this isn't Canada." Oh yes, I forgot, Canada is a magical far off land with no crime and the only good white people.
This could have been a great film. Washington, who won the Golden Globe, gives a powerful performance. But once the magical Canadians show up, the whole thing goes down hill. Too many of the really good themes-racism, mental freedom, Carter's inner struggle-are just dropped. At one point a character outright tells Carter that not all white people are bad. Thanks, subtlety! Too often what could have been or is portrayed simply through Washington's speech and manner is spelled out. And that's too bad, because this could have been a great film.
(Out of five)