A common debate has existed in Hollywood during the last decade – when a film is based on a true story, how much fact does the film actually contain?
This same problem applies to director Norman Jewison’s latest film, The Hurricane (Universal). It is based on the life of one-time welterweight champion Ruben Hurricane Carter (Denzel Washington, The Preacher’s Wife). The Hurricane presents the story in such a way that the idea, which if it is true, is almost laughable. It is not as if the audience is presented with fictitious events, but instead, a large amount of information has been deleted, leaving the audience without the full story.
In The Hurricane, some characters are unquestionably good and others are the personification of evil. However, real life is never that clear cut. Carter’s life gets turned into pure melodrama, and the entertainment value of the film is hampered because most people know Carter gets out of jail. With one element of drama removed from the outset, the film must rely on the way it tells its story, rather that its outcome, to entertain its audience.
When the story is told through the words and actions of Carter, the film moves along rapidly. Through a series of boxing flashbacks, filmed in crisp black and white, as well as childhood and young adult anecdotes, the audience gets to know the public and private Carter. These are undeniably the best scenes in the film. Unfortunately, the film relies too often on narrators other than Carter. Much of the story comes from Lesera Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon) who corresponds with Carter after reading his book The 16th Round. Also providing narration are Lesera’s three roommates (Deborah Kara Unger, The Game; Liev Schreiber, Sphere; John Hannah, Sliding Doors).
Regardless of how important these people are in helping free Carter from prison, they are not interesting enough to receive the amount of screen time that they do. These people, along with Lt. Jimmy Williams (Clancy Brown, The Shawshank Redemption), a kind guard who helps Carter out during his early days in prison, are the good characters in the movie
The bad guy in the film is Officer Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya, Dick). He has dogged Carter since childhood and is responsible for sending him to prison. It is with this character that the film makes its biggest mistake. The audience needs more of a motivation than bigotry for Della Pesca to go to the lengths he does to destroy Carter. The vendetta he has seems personal. It seems Della Pesca does not hate all African Americans, just Carter.
Throughout the film, Washington rises above all the mediocrity surrounding him and helps the film to entertain the audience. His performance by itself is worthy of accolades and nominations. Hopefully, the Academy will recognize his efforts as well.