What to eat while watching:
This biography has a lot going for it. The life story of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, being a story of gross injustice and hard-wrested triumph, engrosses. The acting especially by Denzel Washington is noble homage to the subject and is therefore engaging to watch. I didn't sense actor's egos at all in this film. Lesra¸ The young man who initiates Carter's re-trial and eventual release, is carried very well by a believable young actor, Vicellous Reon Shannon. Lesra's Canadian mentors are pastel highlights in acting: none soar, but they all manage to create friendly characters.
Not just the story and the acting, but also the direction, handled by the experienced Normal Jewison is good. The visual variety of scenes is surprising considering how much of the story takes place in a prison cell. Flashbacks recreate the 60's of Carter's youth.
Carter's story starts in a poor town where he and his gang roam the landscape being kids. A rich white man in a nice car offers to give one of Carter's friends a watch in exchange for sexual favors. The 10-year-old Carter, defending his friend, cuts the man's hand, and all the kids flee. But Old Man Lecher turns out to be a local big-wig and the city detective forms an undying animosity for Carter. We get the sense of an old boy's network. Or an old, closeted, white men's network.
Carter meanwhile enters the armed services and begins boxing. After serving, he is unstoppable in the prize ring and quickly rises to the position of top contender for heavyweight champion. But one night in New Jersey, a double murder in a bar is pinned on Hurricane and an acquaintance by Mr. Hateful Detective. This frame-job is extremely shaky, but a corrupt justice system manages to throw the young fighter into prison for two decades.
Early in this period, Carter asks for help in fighting the court's decision by generating public support though celebrity allies like Bob Dylan and Mohammed Ali. Carter also becomes a Buddhist. But after a failed re-trail, Carter's spirit has turned deeply inward.
Cut to Brooklyn where an adolescent black boy, Lesra, being mentored by some Canadians, reads Carter's book The 16th Round. Lesra starts writing to Carter, and eventually visits him. These powerful scenes develop a strong relationship between the older man, a wronged hero, and the younger man as the idealistic striver. As Lesra's mentors are teaching him that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to, they have no way of excusing themselves from the job of helping Carter regain his freedom once Lesra makes his intention clear. They all move to Virginia to be close to Hurricane and to fight his legal battle.
The truly dramatic courtroom scene comes and in this familiar territory, we are treated to Carter's greatest victory against the odds. Washington plays the scene very well.
With film biography, one must expect some directorial embellishment and abbreviation in making the best 2-hour stretch of entertainment. I believe I'd find several details changed or curtailed were I to read a definitive biography. But the bias in this story is subtle under the weight of the tale being told. Carter's early history remains shrouded in mystery, for who knows what really happened now? Later in the film, the dramatic license is obvious, but it's in these early scenes, where Carter earns the undying antipathy of the detective, that the story may take the most liberties. As a viewer, the easy conclusions are that society has victimized a truly innocent boy, innocent in that his actions--which stopped far short of murder - were precipitated by the lechery of a rich white man. Though I would by no means suggest that this movie is incorrect, I do want to indicate that this subtle bias early in the movie infuses the entire story that depends upon this first, arcane incident. Not that any of this detracts from the viewing experience, which is engaging start to stop.
People into boxing, Denzel Washington, or biography may rush to rent this, but it's also a good film for others who may not have much interest in any of the above. We all have seen images of our corrupt political system, but the more moving and important message this film delivers is the message that each of us, as individuals and working together, have the power to change what is unfair and to restore freedom to the imprisoned.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.