Review of the movie by Hans Sherrer
For Justice Denied magazine, published in Vol. 1, Issue 11
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Hannah, Debra Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and Vicellous Reon Shannon
Directed by Norman Jewison
Produced by Norman Jewison, Armyan Bernstein and John Ketcham
Screenplay by Dan Gordon and Armyan Bernstein
Released by Universal 2000 Pictures
Movie web site at: The Hurricane: His Greatest Fight Was For Justice
Before I saw The Hurricane, I heard a radio commentator remark that the movie was given an extraordinarily high approval rating by pre-release test audiences. I understood why after I saw it. The movie has many themes that can appeal to a broad cross-section of people. Those themes are woven around the events in Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's life that led up to, and followed his 1966 conviction for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey, and his imprisonment for three life sentences.
Among the threads of this weave, one portrays the power of friendship to transcend barriers of culture, race and distance. The story also illustrates how someone can use mental discipline to make an unpleasant and inhumane living condition tolerable. The Hurricane further shows how the power of persistence can overcome what initially appear to be insurmountable obstacles. It also presents the inspirational and life-transforming effect one's personal example can have on others. The Hurricane demonstrates that sometimes the only way to win a rigged game is to go for broke in a calculated all-or-nothing gambit unexpected by your opponent. The movie also presents a lesson in how someone can direct the energy generated by the anger at being grievously wronged into a means of transcending his misfortune to become a better and more aware human being. The Hurricane gives us a sobering lesson in the level of commitment and persistence necessary to expose a case of gross injustice. It also shows the difficulty of overcoming the dual hurdles of poverty and race in a society that values money and "whiteness." This impacting story further provides a "paint by the numbers" lesson in how easily the judicial system can be manipulated by the prejudices of law enforcement officials. Perhaps its most sobering and important theme, is that if it weren't for Rubin Carter's one-time notoriety as a nationally ranked prize fighter, it is likely he would still be entombed in prison -- 34 years after his wrongful conviction.
Although he is not a central character in the movie, the injustice perpetrated against John Artis, Carter's courageous codefendant, is clearly acknowledged. Artis was given and served the same sentence as Rubin Carter, even though he could have traded perjured testimony against Carter for a lighter sentence or immunity from prosecution.
All biographical movies involve taking a certain amount of artistic license by their producers, and the telling of Rubin Carter's story is no different.
However, some of the dialogue in the movie comes directly from court transcripts and the movie revolves around the central fact that at the age of 29, Carter was cut down in the prime of his professional boxing career by a frame-up orchestrated by police and prosecutors in Paterson, New Jersey. The movie is also effective in portraying the almost 20 years of effort to induce the New Jersey Court system to right his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Carter was finally freed on a writ of habeas corpus in 1985 by a federal judge who was unprejudiced by state politics. After reviewing the record of perjury, racism, witness tampering, overlooked or concealed evidence, and the falsification of documents replete through his case, the judge ruled that Carter had been denied due process and freed him.
The Hurricane focuses on the personal impact of what happened to Rubin Carter and those around him without becoming schmaltzy. It also tends to accent the positive, and only peripherally gives screen time to “the bad guys” -- the racist police and prosecutors who made Carter's life a living hell from before the time he became a teenager.
Denzel Washington gives an inspired performance as Rubin Carter and a fine supporting cast and an exceptionally intelligent screenplay ably backs him up. I liked The Hurricane much more than I expected, and it is the sort of movie that will have much more visual impact if you are able to see it in a theater.