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IN SHORT: Not a knock out [Rated [R], 146 minutes]
This is the story of The Hurricane, a boxer whose life never dealt him a fair break. Cheated of the middleweight championship by a questionable decision, falsely arrested and railroaded through a court system by racist prosecutors and lying witnesses, most of us had never heard of the man until Bob Dylan wrote a song in the mid-70s and actors like Ellen Burstyn took up the man's cause. But even at his best, actor Denzel Washington hasn't managed to captivate this pair of eyes while a nagging question kept bouncing around in my brain as this flick unspooled.
A problem with scripts based on real stories is that some characters are invented or "composites" from multiple people to help tell the story. Cranky doesn't know which are which but in its efforts to point the finger at racist cops and prosecutors (given the timeframe, totally believable) this film opens up major questions about the competency of Carter's legal counsel through his first two trials and a failed appeal. Somehow, I don't think that was it's intent.
It's set up this way. In Paterson New Jersey, 1964, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter is a minor celebrity. On the night in question, he's been hanging out in a bar, just having a good time, while the wife (Debbi Morgan) is home taking care of the baby. He offers a buddy, John Artis (Garland Whitt), a ride home. During that ride the pair is pulled over by the police looking for two murder suspects driving a similar car. Though witnesses clear them, a racist cop detective (Dan Hedaya), who has a long history with the Carter tells the boxer to his face that he's going down for murder. The changes his story. An all white jury ships the pair off to jail with three life sentences each, no questions asked.
Is anybody out there thinking "Carter and Artis have multiple witnesses for their alibi?" Unless I blinked and missed it, close to ninety minutes pass until the script reveals a discrepancy as to when the police were notified about the shootings (as opposed to what time the other partyers can attest to). That, in turn, leads to the big trial which caps off this flick. The legal team we meet has only been on the case for a decade, so there's a huge gap of time and a big question of evidence that does not make sense. If you give a movie viewer, in this case me, over an hour to let the question about alibi nag at the back of his brain, that's a failure of the script.
As far as prison inmates go, you couldn't conceive of a more contrary prisoner. Refusing to admit any kind of guilt for the crime, the man refuses to follow any orders or submit to the systems in force in the prison. Only the intervention of a sympathetic prison guard (Clancy Brown) keeps the man from complete self destruction.
Which brings us to the central characters of this flick, three Canadians (John Hannah, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber) and one relocated kid from Brooklyn who spends a quarter for a copy of Rubin Carter's "The Sixteenth Round" at a used book sale. To the kidlet, Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), Carter's life could have been his. He contacts and eventually meets the prisoner, bringing Carter out of a self imposed shell. When Carter tries to shut them out, as he did his wife many years before, they refuse to let him. The group move to the states to work the case, putting their lives literally on the line to do so.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Hurricane, he would have paid...
Sorry folks. You can't leave an obvious alibi, and the reason it didn't work, out of the script for as long as the writers do and expect us to hold tight. Good performances all around (and for the second time this year, Rod Steiger plays the judge who holds the final say) can't save it.
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