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[whitespace] Ride the Whirlwind

'The Hurricane' simplifies a complex case

By Richard von Busack

THE NEW Denzel Washington film, The Hurricane, is based on the true story of Hurricane Carter, a middle-weight boxing champ unjustly convicted in 1967 for a double homicide. Bob Dylan's hit song about Carter was many people's introduction to the story. The song is heard three times in the movie, like a Frankie Laine ballad celebrating the solitary virtues of a man of the West.

We all know Washington is an actor of skill and complexity and gravity, and he's terrific-looking, too, having bulked up with muscle for the role of Carter. Yet his Carter is really only interesting when the mask of toughness drops. The boxer is helped through his ordeal by a pen pal (Vicellous Shannon) who idolizes him. Director Norman Jewison sees Carter through those same dewy, star-struck eyes. The movie tells us that Carter never made a genuine mistake in his life--he was always in the right. (The real Carter served time for mugging, but the movie glides over that fact.)

You don't need to have read the numerous articles about the inaccuracies in this film, brought about to change the complex story of Hurricane Carter into a dubious and shallow feel-good biography. All you do need is a developed sense of what's phony in a movie. The Hurricane is an extremely simpleminded picture, made without the saving brevity of the old Warner Brothers torn-from-today's-headlines films of the 1930s. The Hurricane co-stars Dan Hedaya as evil racist Javert of a cop; Deborah Cara Unger, unaccountably drab as the leader of a Canadian commune who helps the boxer; and a showboating Rod Steiger making the most out of a small part as a judge. Steiger amuses himself and us by trying out a number of ways to accent the word "proceed."

The Hurricane (R; 125 min.), directed by Norman Jewison, written by Rubin Carter and Sam Chaiton, photographed by Roger Deakins and starring Denzel Washington, Dan Hedaya and Rod Steiger, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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