The Hurricane

The Hurricane (2000)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Hannah, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Deleted Scenes

Norman Jewison is the director who brought us "Moonstruck" and "Other People's Money". This film, originally released in 2000, earned Denzel Washington an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance of the main character, legendary boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

The film is based on two different accounts of the same story. The first is Carter's biography "The Sixteenth Round" and Sam Chaiton's "Lazarus And The Hurricane". Although both books take the same innocence stance, in the film version the story goes back and forth in time retracing the life of a boxer on the verge of superstardom.

Indeed, the film goes back to Carter's youth, when he gets into trouble with the law for stabbing a white child molester. He eventually joins the military after escaping his juvenile detention center and appears to get his act together, at the same time learning to fight. When he returns from service, he gets involved with a woman he meets at a bar, she is someone who he will share a large portion of his life with, Mae Thelma Carter (Debbie Morgan). In fact, in the film version Carter is arrested at her home the very evening they met, and sent back to jail by his arch nemesis, a police detective named Della Pesca played with demonic zeal and fervor by Dan Hedaya.

In the film version, this detective appears to have an unhealthy and unexplained obsession with persecuting Carter, but really, as the director explains in his commentary, he is a mixture of many different characters that allegedly conspired to put Rubin Carter behind bars.

This time, being imprisoned has a different effect on Rubin, a huge divide is being created between him and whites, and his distrust and anger towards them is represented by his decision to turn his body into a weapon as he does his time. Washington truly got himself into top physical condition for this role. After being released we watch a fight scene where he unleashes his fury onto a white opponent, his fighting career takes off and he becomes quite the sensation during the turbulent sixties. He is also a supporter of the civil rights movement and appears to have been somewhat radicalized by his past experiences with racism, which attempts to explain why forces may conspire against him.

Now, in the prime of his career something happens that forever alters not only his life, but that of an unwitting fan, John Artis (Garland Whitt) who offers to give the prize fighter a ride home from a club one unfortunate evening. That very night a shooting has taken place at another bar that leaves three white people dead. Rubin and his driver are unlucky enough to fit the match for two blacks in a white car and get pulled over and taken to the murder scene, and then to the hospital where one of the dying victims is asked if these are the men who shot him by Rubin's nemesis, Detective Pesca. Vincent Pastore (of "Sopranos" fame) plays Alfred Bello, the watchman for a burglary going on near the bar who witnesses the two men getting in their car and leaving after the shooting, initially fails to make the match but is persuaded to identify the two innocent men after being promised his burglary crime will be overlooked by Pesca for doing so. The two are held and eventually tried and convicted and sentenced to life terms in prison.

As for the details of the case, I have not done the research, but the film aggressively believes in the innocence of its subjects and it may be guilty of perhaps being a little one-sided on the subject, but it is still a very powerful film. There is also a very important sub plot involving a group of Canadians (John Hannah, Liev Schreiber and Deborah Kara Unger) who adopt a young black man named Lesra Martin (Viccelous Shannon) who inspires all to help free Rubin after reading his autobiography. We also have Clancy Brown, always excellent, as Jimmy Williams, Rubin's sympathetic jailer. This is an extremely well made film. The prison scenes are not only powerful, but also uplifting. "The Hurricane" this is the type of film that will make you want to stand up and cheer. Although it may have some factual inaccuracies, it certainly isn't easy to cram someone's life or even make a true crime film in 2 hours and twenty minutes. This is more of a courtroom drama/true crime film than it is a boxing film, with only a few boxing scenes sprinkled in. If you don't pick this film apart for flaws you have a very entertaining movie going experience and a powerful motion picture whose statement comes through very clear, and it is definitely one of Washington's best performances, and that is saying a lot. I really enjoyed this film, and found it rather uplifting that someone could endure so much and still maintain not only sanity, but continue fighting for justice.

In the video department this wonderful film actually looks quite nice. Yes, we have a few instances of imperfections, especially at the beginning; maybe a print scratch or two, but nothing too distracting. The images do appear to pop off the screen, and the colors and skin tones come out quite nicely. While not 'perfect' this title really is nice to look at, and if a couple of times the colors seem a bit washed out, however it is easily forgiven. Though perhaps a little inconsistent, this catalog title truly shines in all the right areas and is a world different from its standard definition counterpart. I was constantly impressed by how film like this presentation is.

As for the audio, the Dolby Digital Plus track truly shines and the surrounds are very active. The wonderful soundtrack, filled with gems from Ray Charles to Bob Dylan to the wonderful score by Christopher Young, comes through very well. I simply love this soundtrack.

Now, some may have wanted more in the special features department, but I was happy enough with the film itself. Perhaps a documentary or something about the real people would have been interesting, but unfortunately there is nothing of the sort. But on the other hand the commentary is actually very informative and the director Norman Jewison is obviously very proud of his film; he tells some fascinating stories. I was pleasantly impressed and surprised by how fascinating it was, so don't pass it up.

We also have a 'Spotlight On Location: The Making Of The Hurricane' which is standard fare, but enjoyable enough.

Then there are some deleted scenes with an introduction by the director. These scenes are quite interesting, although I see why they were trimmed. There is one however that the director wishes he would have left in regarding the search for a specific car by the Canadians. All deleted scenes are sadly in non-anamorphic standard definition. And let's not forget the film's trailer, which is sadly not in high definition either.

"The Hurricane" is a very intense filmgoing experience. I'm not sure how historically accurate it really is, but it has entertainment value that is well worth your time. I would have to research the facts of the actual case a little more to give my perceptions on that, and nothing is included with the disc. While it may appear at first glance to be a little shy in the special features department, the director is so passionate and lively in the features we do get, it more than makes up for it. It also looks better than ever on this HD-DVD and I highly recommend it.