The Hurricane - * * *

Wrongful impisonment movies are a dime a dozen. In fact, in most prison movies, the protagonist is innocent of all wrongdoing. At first, The Hurricane follows meekly along with the trend. However, a spectacular lead performance, and an invigorating second half, redeem this faltering drama.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington) was a middleweight boxing champion in the early 1960s. On June 17th, 1966, he is apprehended by a racist cop (Dan Hedaya), and charged with the murder of three whites in a New Jersey bar. Although he is obviously an innocent man, Rubin is found guilty and sent to prison for life.

He cause is picked up by some famous people, including Martin Luther King and Bob Dylan, and yet none of his appeals are ever successful. Carter writes a book about his imprisonment, The Sixteenth Round, and yet that doesn’t help him. As the years tick by, the Hurricane begins to die down.

Flash forward nearly twenty years. A young teen named Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon) is learning to read under the tuteledge of three do-gooder Canadians (Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and John Hannah). He chooses his first book, Rubin’s The Sixteenth Round, and is captivated by the story. He, and his Canadian friends, decide to do whatever they can to help free the Hurricane.

The first half of The Hurricane is old hat. While the “wrongfully imprisoned man” storlyine isn’t necessarily a bad one, it is overly familiar. It is not until the second half of the movie, when Lesra gets involved in the story, that things begin to pick up. The relationship between Rubin and Lesra is what kickstarts the whole film.

Denzel Washington turns in one of the best performances of his career, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Ranging from angry and determined, to bitter and depressed, to hopeful, his portrait of Hurricane Carter is nothing short of spectacular. Even in the sluggish opening hour, his presence is simply mesmerizing, and only gets better with time.

As Lesra, Vicellous Reon Shannon holds his own against Washington. He aptly conveys his character’s path from street-smart to book-smart, and develops a touching surrogate father-son bond with Hurricane Carter.

Things aren’t quite as positive with the remainder of the cast. The murky relationship of the Canadians is never made quite clear, but Unger, Schreiber and Hannah rarely do much of interest anyway. Dan Hedaya’s antagonistic cop is so virulently evil that it borders on the comic.

Director Norman Jewison needed to trim some of the first hour of the film, but he deftly brings the movie to an appropriate emotional climax. Even with all the film’s conventional scenes, The Hurricane regains its fury from the powerful performance from Denzel Washington.

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