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Hurricane, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 January 2008

Image“The Hurricane” is one of those films that are loved by true movie watchers and not just people who go to the theater to kill an hour and a half or two hours. It has deep, textured storytelling, character building, and plenty of room for an actor as gifted as Denzel Washington to do some of his best work. Too many movies are simply rushed through. “The Hurricane” gathers intensity slowly, the delivers in an overwhelming rush just like its namesake.

It helps that the movie has its roots in real life. Reuben “Hurricane” Carter is still alive today and doing his best at seventy years old to help wrongly convicted prisoners get out of prison and get on with their lives. Lesra Martin, the young man whose life was so drastically altered by his encounter with Carter’s book, “The Sixteenth Round”, and eventually Carter himself, also has his life story mixed up in the movie. Audiences are actually getting two stories for the price of one.

Denzel Washington is on fire as Carter. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar; it was well deserved. Every moment Denzel is on the screen is a winner. He’s mesmerizing and charismatic, honorable and dangerous. All through the movie, he feels like a coiled spring just waiting to explode, even when he’s working with Vicellous Reon Shannon, who plays Lesra Martin. The story structure is broken up, providing an overall experience that can be hard to follow at times. The film is designed to rouse the viewer’s sympathy, depicting Carter as a man who’s always had victory snatched from him and was guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The scenes of Carter as a boy running through the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, stealing things from the merchants fits with the man’s actual biography. Carter was constantly in trouble with the law, and he admits that. However, the film immediately softens that by having him defend his friends against a pedophile looking for a target. In order to escape the grown man, and to keep from being killed, Carter had to stab him with the knife he was carrying.

Later, police arrest him for attempting to rob the man and doing bodily harm. In the film, this was where he first faced Detective Sergeant Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya), who becomes his mortal enemy throughout the movie. In real life, he was arrested for a career of assault and robberies and sentenced to reform school at age 14. He escaped within three years and enlisted in the Army.

In the film, Carter comes back as a proud soldier who served as a paratrooper and learned how to fight. In real life, Carter learned how to fight while in the Army and became a welterweight, but he also became unsuitable to the military and was discharged as being unfit.

Viewers who take the time to line up Hollywood’s version of Reuben “Hurricane” Carter with the real story that Carter himself tells might be somewhat disillusioned. Knowing the truth after watching this wonderfully heartbreaking story is hard. But Hollywood felt they had to sanitize much of Carter’s real life to win viewer sympathies. Of course, this sanitized version hit the mark.

But Carter also knew how to beat his own drum. There’s something to be said for a man who could think well enough to plan to write a book that might one day get him out of prison. Not only that, but Carter caught the attention of folk singer Bob Dylan and ended up winning him over to write a song about his plight called, appropriately, “Hurricane”, which went on to become one of Dylan’s most remembered songs.

The polarity between good and evil, Hollywood and real life, is extreme, but there’s no denying the excellence of the film. The boxing matches are effectively shot in black and white. They bring the feeling of old school boxing to the film. But even some of those fights tended to weigh too heavily on Carter’s side. In particular, Carter’s fight with Joey Giardello, the middleweight champion at that time, was so heavily slanted in Carter’s favor and tainted with racism that Giardello successfully sued the film studios and got an undisclosed amount of money as a damage settlement.

Intercut with Carter’s story, Lesra Martin turns out to be an interesting young man just trying to find his way through life. Like Carter, Martin grew up in a rough neighborhood where he didn’t have much of a future. However, Martin caught the eye of a trio of Canadian entrepreneurs that volunteer to take him to Toronto and teach him how to read. At age sixteen, though enrolled in school and passing grades, Martin still didn’t know how to read all that well.

As the film shows, Martin discovered Carter’s book in a bargain basement bin, picked it up, and read it. The book caused Martin to question and learn a lot of things about his own life, especially why the three people helped him.

One of the most powerful moments in the movie is when Carter and Martin meet for the first time. Denzel and Shannon play that moment beautifully, and it shows the compassion that Carter still had in him after all those years in prison. In the interview material on the disc, one of the things Martin says most impressed him about Carter was that all those years in the institution hadn’t beaten him. And that, according to Martin and Carter, was a true moment.

The first part of the movie is a little slow, but there are many things to inform viewers about in order to bring them up to speed. The murders that happen at the beginning are shown again in the first third to close that section off and throw the action forward again. Once Martin gets involved with working with Carter to get him a new trial, the pace picks up. Denzel’s rage and conviction are pared down to the bone. He isn’t so much acting as living Carter’s life.

The HD DVD video presentation of the film is fantastic. There are a lot of different locations in this movie, some inside the gray walls of an institution, others on city streets, and still others outside, offering the viewers a cornucopia of visual treats while this remarkably emotional story plays out. The images are crisp and clear, and even the black & white sequences are lit so well that the shadows create a whole new world.

Incredibly, the movie lacks in the sound department. Even with the surround sound and the Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound is diluted and weak. There are places where the tone and pitch are so uneven that the conversations are all but unintelligible unless the volume is increased, then it needs to be turned down again.

The special features were obviously shot back in 1999 or 2000 because Denzel looks young in them. It’s interesting and exciting to see Carter and Martin as they really were at that time. The deleted scenes section was interesting, and you can hear the love in Director Jewison has for this film.

“The Hurricane” is a great film to watch for the overall feel-good of the movie, but viewers should also take a trip through a website or two to get the real stories about Carter and how he became a criminal. The story pacing and structure feels like old Hollywood at its finest.

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