January 24, 2000 -- The true story of Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, a prizefighter wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of three people in a New Jersey barroom shooting some 30 years ago is the basis for this gripping movie about injustice in America.
Denzel Washington (who last starred in "The Bone Collector") gives a brilliant and nuanced performance as Carter, exposing many facets of his personality as Carter begins to break down mentally in prison. Vicellous Reon Shannon (of "D2: The Mighty Ducks") plays Lesra, a young boy inspired by "The Sixteenth Round," the book Carter wrote in his prison cell.
That this young boy was inspired to help Carter is not surprising. What is very surprising is that three Canadian hippies who are taking care of Lesra, also decide to help him. Their unselfish efforts to help Carter, as well as Lesra, who they plucked from the ghettoes of Philadelphia, is an astonishing testament to the great generosity in the human spirit. If this has been a story of fiction, no Hollywood screenwriter would have written characters like this.
The three Canadians, Lisa Peters, Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton, played by Deborah Unger ("Payback"), Liev Schreiber (the "Scream" movies) and John Hannah ("The Mummy"), respectively, voluntarily moved to New Jersey to work on behalf of Carter when his court appeals fail and Carter loses all hope of release.
Carter's prison life is the focus of much of the movie. Except for a sympathetic guard, a warden and a few prisoners, Carter is pretty much on his own. The scenes of his solitary confinement are tense as different parts of Carter's personality split and begin to argue with each other (great acting by Washington here). The way Carter maintains his rigid mental and physical discipline in prison is impressive. It is agonizing to see Carter tell his wife to consider him dead and for her to move on with her life.
Veteran director Norman Jewison ("Moonstruck") pulls these various stories together very deftly. He does not spend a lot of time in the courtroom. He also does not spend much time on the actual crime, just enough to let us know what happened. The flashbacks work very well, especially the ones showing Carter's childhood and his years as a young man, taken straight from Carter's book. The elements of the story are spare and balanced. Jewison shows a disciplined approach to moviemaking that many directors would be well-advised to follow. Oh, yeah, and there's also a great soundrack, including Bob Dylan's song about Carter. This film rates an A.
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