Combustible Celluloid
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With: Denzel Washington, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Liev Schreiber, Deborah Unger, John Hannah, Dan Hedaya, Clancy Brown, David Paymer, Rod Steiger, Debbi Morgan
Written by: Armyan Bernstein, Dan Gordon, based on books by Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton
Directed by: Norman Jewison
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 145
Date: 09/17/1999

The Hurricane (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Natural Disasters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Denzel Washington boxes, hollers, sweats, swoons, and ages in The Hurricane, a great showcase for the actor's skills. Washington is always so good, but usually gets stuck in less-than-promising roles (like The Bone Collector). The Hurricane isn't much better, but at least this role is worth his time.

The Hurricane is based on the true story of boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, who was falsely accused of a murder and spent nearly 20 years in prison before a landmark overturning of the decision. It is directed by Norman Jewison (who directed Washington in 1984's A Soldier's Storys), one of Hollywood's safest and most reliable directors-for-hire. He turns in an ordinary movie whose components, other than Washington, are two-dimensional. A crooked cop (Dan Hedaya) with a racist streak catches Washington at the wrong place at the wrong time and sends him to prison for a crime he did not commit. Years later, three social workers (Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and John Hannah) and their young student (Vicellous Reon Shannon) read Hurricane's book and work to get him out, and a judge (in a great scene-chewing turn by Rod Steiger) finally sees the difference between justice and law. Unfortunately none of these characters, despite the acting chops the players possess, are worth the bother.

Still Washington is amazing. The first time we see him is in the ring as a young boxer (filmed in black-and-white, reminding us of 1980's Raging Bull). Suddenly we see him years later, in prison, pounding on the walls, screaming in fury. His face is entirely different; his eyes are different, but we know it's him. Another, more obvious scene, has Hurricane in solitary confinement, battling with his own conscience. Jewison shows us two 'Hurricanes' verbally fighting with each other. It's silly, but it works. An astute reviewer called The Hurricane a series of Oscar clips for Washington, and that assessment is right on the nose. But sometimes the emotional commitment of an actor is enough to power an entire film, and that's the case here. I'm recommending The Hurricane with only a little reservation.

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