Pathos at the cost of plausibility!
Screenplay By: Armyan Bernstein & Dan Gordon
Directed By: Norman Jewison
I wanted to love The Hurricane, I really did. I loved Denzel Washington’s performance, I witnessed moments in the story that could have been great. Ultimately I couldn’t get past the one sided nature of all the characters and how they didn’t fit with the realistic mold that the world of The Hurricane was supposed to be. This disparity in realness is too much to get over, at least for me. All the great acting in the world and all the attempts at pathos can’t overcome characters that are one dimensional and a story that is stilted so far to one side that everyone on side A becomes a villain while everyone on side B is a hero.
Rubin Carter may be the best performance of Denzel Washington’s career, I only wish it had taken place in a better movie. There are moments where he invokes great power and makes me care about what I am seeing on the screen. However, even in those moments it is hard to care about his performance when the next second we are given an image of Dan Hedaya grunting and snarling as only the one dimensional evil cop can snarl and grunt. Washington may be great, but a performance needs to work off its material, and the material in The Hurricane is less than stellar, never providing a good jumping off point for Washington’s performance.
Story wise the biggest problems come in the vagueness of certain aspects combined with the one note nature of others and the hard line morals of the film. The Canadians are never defined, what is up with them? Are they a commune, are they a cult, are they just good people? The Hurricane never lets us know, just as it never treats a lot of the supporting cast as real people. Mae Carter appears and disappears at a whim, John Artis’ fate is just as terrible as that of Rubin Carter’s, but we hear only a few seconds of his plight. For as much as the movie is vague in those areas, it is one note and hard line in the morals of the characters. There isn’t a gray area in The Hurricane, the world is black and white, and it hurts the film that it is so black and white. Initially it is hard to feel sympathy for Rubin Carter because of how belligerent he is, how unlikeable his character is. Then, as time goes by it’s hard to feel sympathy for his character because of how morally corrupt the movie makes the world around him. Every white man is out to get him, every part of the system is corrupt. The Hurricane goes to major extremes to try and manipulate the viewer into feeling sympathy, but in my case all I felt was a distance from the material.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I really wanted to love The Hurricane. I liked the cast, I am a fan of Norman Jewison and the subject matter can be a compelling story. Going full Hollywood with the story was not the way to go however, removing areas of truth and creating areas of manipulation through attempts at pathos fall flat and left me feeling like I had just been cheated. The Hurricane is mildly recommended for the performance of Denzel Washington alone, but it’s not a performance you need to go out of your way to see. Unlike real life, Hollywood managed to do the impossible, put Rubin “Hurricane” Carter down for the count.