Monday, December 23, 2013

Hurricane of Injustice: Denzel's Fine Work in The Hurricane.

Movie Review: The Hurricane

Director: Norman Jewison

Reviewed: 23 December 2013

jamesintexas rating-- ***1/2

I find myself drawn strongly to films that appeal to my sense of justice. And prison films in general play upon this because of the institutionalized torture of taking time away from an innocent person. Norman Jewison's The Hurricane stands close to the upper echelon of prison films with The Shawshank Redemption and In The Name of The Father, films that demand introspection and awareness of the ravages of time upon a single face. These films are actor's showcases, and Denzel Washington portrays the emotional turbulence, the depression, and the despair of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a young boxer falsely accused of a horrific crime in New Jersey one night. At the whims of one impossibly, indefensibly evil police officer Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya), Rubin finds himself jailed, convicted, and broken by a corrupt system of cops, judges, and inept lawyers. He languishes in prison for years, writing a book, becoming a cause celebre, but it is only when Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a troubled young man who has moved away from his family in order for a chance at survival, writes him from Canada that the wheels of justice start being set in motion.

Jewison's film appeals straight to the heart with its confident moves from past to present, impossibly gorgeous black and white boxing matches with a ferocious Rubin to the institutionalized grey of the prison present. Jewison depicts Rubin's fracturing of his own mind in one intense sequence constructed to make Rubin appear to split personalities. Denzel Washington is a tour-de-force here, being asked to show the highs and lows of Rubin's life. His work is magnetic, impossible not to watch even in quiet scenes. Jewison often shows institutional walls and doors blocking Rubin, moving across the screen to metaphorically squash him. The Hurricane fights back with all that he has, though confined to a prison cell.

The film, I think, streamlines the story a bit too much by making the villain so villainous and neglecting to pursue him for any sort of retribution. Ultimately, it weakens the film to have this one character exhibit so much abuse of power without ever being held accountable. And in taking on so much, the film loses a bit of its emotional through line with the burgeoning relationship between young Lesra and Rubin. The legal machinations and investigations prove quite interesting, though the three Canadians never seem that developed or real. The film earns its ending, a powerhouse court scene with Rod Steiger as the Judge Sarokin. Rubin's desire to hold out hope for true justice makes for compelling viewing, and the real-life footage of The Hurricane at the end, though superfluous for Washington has made him so completely real, again wrings even more tears from an audience appalled at the injustice that robbed a man of so much time, so much life.

And at its core, there is something uniquely American about this story. A young man in Canada bought a book in a used book sale, read the entire book, and wrote letters to an author imprisoned, sparking the fire that lit the way to his freedom. And our court systems, flawed though they are, ultimately served the justice that they aspire to uphold. I highly recommend The Hurricane, despite its imperfections. It moved me to tears at least twice, and I think Denzel Washington's performance is one of his finest ever.

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