The Hurricane

USA 1999

Reviewed by Richard Kelly


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

1973. Black middleweight boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter is in prison. 1966. Three whites are killed in a New Jersey barroom, and two black men are seen fleeing in a white car with out-of-state plates. Carter and young black friend John Artis, driving a similar vehicle, are arrested by detective Vincent Della Pesca.

Years later. Lesra Martin, a black boy tutored by three Canadian educationalists, reads Carter's autobiography. As a boy, Carter was railroaded into juvenile detention by Della Pesca. He escaped, joined the army and became a promising fighter, but Della Pesca oversaw his recapture. Carter emerged from prison to become a middleweight contender and public figure. Della Pesca convinced two petty criminals to testify they saw Carter and Artis fleeing the New Jersey barroom. In 1967 an all-white jury convicted the two men. Despite a prominent campaign supporting Carter and Artis, they lost a second trial in 1976. Lesra corresponds with Carter, visits him in prison, and introduces him to the Canadians. After a lost appeal that dispirits Carter, the Canadians offer support to his defence counsel. Della Pesca threatens them and their car is sabotaged, but they uncover papers which reveal that Della Pesca falsified evidence against Carter. In 1985 Carter gambles on appealing to a federal court. Judge Sarokin nullifies the convictions as unconstitutional.


Norman Jewison barely gets 10 minutes into this workmanlike liberal biopic before his soundtrack makes the first of several nods to Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane', a magisterially detailed ballad about the iniquities that befell Rubin Carter. Jewison's film dutifully visualises what civil-rights students and Dylan fans already know of this notorious triple-murder frame. But its narrative structure and final act are indebted to Lazarus and the Hurricane, a book by Canadians Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton about their relationship with Lesra Martin and their role in the efforts to win Carter's freedom.

In the opening reels, the structure of The Hurricane seems restless and inventive: we wonder if the film will tell us something sharp and unsettling about race-hate in the US. After all, Carter and Artis were wrongly convicted in the incendiary summer of 1967 and Carter was politically outspoken. Here, Carter is seen shaking his head over news footage of the Harlem riots, and an off-the-record barb about hunting down "nigger-hating cops" winds up in print, earning him a brick through his window. Meanwhile, in the film's present, young Lesra imbibes enough of Rubin's fierceness to accuse his Canadian teachers of salving their liberal guilt by undertaking his education.

But otherwise The Hurricane fights shy of evoking the climate of prejudice that condemned Carter and refuses to disquiet us by linking his plight to racist disgraces in the US today. As the synopsis above might attest, the drama is hung on a vendetta between a flawed-but-honourable man and a doggedly bad cop. Yes, it's Valjean and Javert, together again. Jewison frames Dan Hedaya's detective Della Pesca forever lurking at street corners and doorways, or stepping from the shadows to mutter some foul racist oath. The Hurricane's producers have insisted the film mounts an indictment of institutional racism which encompasses judges and prosecutors too, but you might have trouble figuring this out from what you're shown.

Moreover, the film's account of prison exposes the points where mainstream cinema always fumbles stories as harsh and unhappy as Carter's. As The Hurricane serves out his first stretch, he tells us in voiceover that bitter experience convinced him to train himself as a man-machine, his body a weapon. But this tragic, dehumanised sentiment is somehow rendered movie-sexy by a montage in which star Denzel Washington executes inverted push-ups as though auditioning for the Con Air sequel. Later there's a crucial, adventurous sequence, after Carter has refused prison fatigues in protest at his conviction and lands in solitary confinement ("The Hole") for weeks on end. There, Jewison tries to convey Carter's personality in collapse and Washington effects a convincing tussle between Carter's warring selves: a child who wants to sob, a fighter who wants to lash out, and the wiser head who knows the worst is still to come.

Nevertheless, the standard movie-ellipsis fails to give us much more than an inkling of how such deprivation might maim the spirit. An entire film could have been conjured out of that Hole. Thereafter, with the help of a very controlled performance from Washington, Jewison presents Carter as a stoic jailhouse intellectual, "Buddha in a ten-foot cell," as Dylan had it. Then there's a lousy, inevitable scene where the Canadians pay Rubin a visit. Carter rebuffs them tersely for their inability to understand the claustral, inhumane hell that is imprisonment. Trouble is, Jewison hasn't really given us the images to fit Carter's description. He's even issued Carter with a prison-guard pal, and when Carter is finally freed, there's a ticker-tape celebration in the jailhouse.

Of course, Jim Sheridan's drama of wrongful imprisonment In the Name of the Father was equally studio-slick and cavalier with the facts, but it worked because its Gerry Conlon protagonist was seen to be dime-a-dozen: a bit of an eejit, always likely to get himself in the wrong place. Rubin Carter, though, is plainly extraordinary. "How can the life of such a man/be in the palm of some fool's hands?" Dylan complained. But lesser men still fall into the same hands, and still find the law discriminates against class and colour. Very few can muster the resilience and dignity of Rubin Carter, and their stories are unlikely to be deemed sufficiently inspirational for Hollywood. While doing the rounds of US breakfast television for The Hurricane's opening weekend, Rubin Carter himself was respectfully asked if he was surprised by anything in the film. "I never knew," he professed with a very engaging grin, "that I was so pretty."


Norman Jewison
Armyan Bernstein
John Ketcham
Norman Jewison
Armyan Bernstein
Dan Gordon
Based on 'The Sixteenth Round' by
Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter and 'Lazarus and the Hurricane' by
Sam Chaiton, Terry Swinton
Director of Photography
Roger Deakins
Stephen Rivkin
Production Designer
Philip Rosenberg
Christopher Young
©Beacon Communications, LLC
Production Companies
Beacon Pictures presents
an Azoff Films/Rudy Langlais production
Executive Producers
Rudy Langlais
Thomas A. Bliss
Marc Abraham
Irving Azoff
Tom Rosenberg
William Teitler
Suzann Ellis
Michael Jewison
Jon Jashni
Executive in Charge of Production
Nancy Rae Stone
Production Co-ordinators
Janine Anderton
Richard Devinki
New York Crew:
Dawn Riley
Unit Production Managers
Matthew Hart
New York Crew:
Carol Cuddy
Location Managers
David Flaherty
New York Crew:
Mark Kamine
Post-production Co-ordinator
Dana L. Cuff
Assistant Directors
J.J. Authors
Eric Potechin
NY Crew:
Paul F. Bernard
Chris Surgent
Doug Plassery
Terry Ham
Script Supervisor
Samantha Armstrong
Avy Kaufman
Robin D. Cook
Donna Dupree-Taylor
Beth Bowling
Camera Operators
Candide Franklyn
Angelo Colavecchia
New York Crew:
Larry Huston
Special Effects Co-ordinators
Kaz Kobielski
NY Crew:
Peter Kunz
New York Crew Computer Graphics
Lane Glisson
Art Directors
Dennis Davenport
New York Crew:
Patricia Woodbridge
Set Decorators
Gordon Sim
New York Crew:
Ellen Christiansen
Key Scenic Artist
Rob McEune
Storyboard Artist
Kelly Brine
Costume Designer
Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Costume Supervisor
New York Crew:
Sandra Leimbacher Weldon
Wardrobe Supervisor
Quita Alfred
Key Artists:
John Caglione Jr
Irene Kent
New York Crew Artist:
Nina Port
David R. Beecroft
Nathan Busch
New York Crew Key:
Nathan Busch
Film Effects Inc
Barbara Morrison
Jim Gilstrap
Alvin Chea
Pete Anthony
Music Orchestrators
Pete Anthony
Jon Kull
Christopher Young
Additional Arranging
Todd Cochran
Music Supervisor
G. Marq Roswell
Score Co-ordinators
David Reynolds
Gernot Wolfgang
Konstantinos Christides
Sujin Nam
Jasper Randall
Kenneth Burgomaster
Supervising Music Editor
Thomas Milano
Music Editor
Tanya Noel Hill
Music Recordist/Mixer
Robert Fernandez
John Rodd
Stage Crew
Tom Steel
Damon Tedesco
Stage Engineer
Dennis Sager
Executive Music Consultant
Anita Camarata
Music Consultant
Danny Holloway
"Hurricane" by Bob Dylan, Jacques Levy, performed by Bob Dylan; "Arabian Boogie" by Bulee 'Slim' Gaillard, Paul Mills, performed by Slim Gaillard; "I Don't Know" by Brook Benton, Bobby Stevenson, performed by Ruth Brown; "Can I Get a Witness" by Edward Holland Jr, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, performed by Marvin Gaye; "Treasure of Love" by Joe Shapiro, Lou Stallman, performed by Clyde McPhatter; "Gillette Look Sharp Match" by Mohlan Merrick; "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by/performed by Gill Scott-Heron; "Hard Times No One Knows", "A Fool for You" by/performed by Ray Charles; "In the Basement" by Billy Davis, Raynard Miner, Carl Smith, performed by Etta James; "It Could Happen to You" by Johnny Burke, James Van Heusen, performed by Dinah Washington; "So Amazing" by Clark Anderson, Summer Anderson; "Get Down on It" by Ronald Bell, James Taylor, George Brown, Robert Bell, Charles Smith, Robert Mickens, Eumir Deodato, performed by Kool & The Gang; "The Hurricane" by Tariq Trotter, Tracey Moore, Mercedes Martinez, Karl Jenkins, Lonnie Lynn, Dante Smith, Falana Brown, Scott Starch, performed by The Roots featuring Black Thought, Common, Most Def, Dice Raw, Flo Brown, JazzyFatNastees
Sound Mixers
Bruce Carwardine
New York Crew:
Frank Stettner
Re-recording Mixers
Don White
Andy Koyama
Tim O'Connell
Brad Thornton
Supervising Sound Editors
Michael O'Farrell
Wayne Griffin
Dialogue Editor
John Laing
Sound Effects Editor
Mark Gingras
Group Co-ordinator:
Burton Sharp
Andy Malcolm
Goro Koyama
Tony Van den Akker
Stunt Co-ordinators
John A. Stoneham Jr
New York Crew:
Peter Bucossi
Boxing Sequences Co-ordinated by
Ron Stein
Denzel Washington
Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter
John Hannah
Deborah Kara Unger
Liev Schreiber
Vicellous Reon Shannon
Lesra Martin
David Paymer
Myron Beldock
Dan Hedaya
Vincent Della Pesca
Harris Yulin
Leon Friedman
Debbi Morgan
Mae Thelma Carter
Clancy Brown
Lt Jimmy Williams
Rod Steiger
Judge Sarokin
Garland Whitt
John Artis
Badja Djola
Vincent Pastore
Alfred Bello
Al Waxman
David Lansbury
US court prosecutor
Chuck Cooper
Earl Martin
Brenda Thomas Denmark
Alma Martin
Marcia Bennett
Jean Wahl
Beatrice Winde
Louise Cockersham
Mitchell Taylor Jr
young Rubin Carter
Bill Raymond
Paterson Judge
Merwin Goldsmith
Judge Larner
John A. MacKay
man at the falls
Donnique Privott
boy at the falls
Moynan King
Tina Barbieri
Gary Dewitt Marshall
Nite Spot cabbie
John Christopher Jones
reporter at bar
Gwendolyn Mulamba
Nite Spot woman
Richard Davidson
Paterson detective
George Odom
Big Ed
Tonye Patano
woman at prison
Fulvio Cecere
Paterson policeman
Phillip Jarrett
Rodney M. Jackson
soldiers in USO Club
Judi Embden
woman in USO club
Terry Claybon
Emile Griffith
Ben Bray
Joey Giordello
Michael Justus
Joey Cooper
Kenneth McGregor
detective at hospital
Frank Proctor
Pittsburgh ring announcer
Peter Wylie
Pittsburgh referee
David Gray
Pittsburgh TV announcer
Joe Matheson
Philadelphia ring announcer
Bill Lake
Philadelphia TV announcer
Robin Ward
Reading, Pa TV announcer
Harry Davis
Reading, Pa referee
Pippa Pearthree
Patty Valentine
Jean Daigle
Robert Evans
detective at Lafayette Bar
Scott Gibson
reporter at banquet
Ann Holloway
Jim Bearden
Bruce McFee
Conrad Bergschneider
Satori Shakoor
Zoran Radusinovic
Stephen Lee Wright
Michael Bodnar
Carson Manning
Deborah Ellen Waller
Richard Litt
Adam Large
Douglas E. Hughes
prison guards
Peter Graham
prisoner with camera
George Masswohl
Lawrence Sacco
David Frisch
New Jersey policemen
Ralph Brown
Federal Court assistant prosecutor
Dyron Holmes
Ryan Williams
Elstan Martin
Bruce Vavrina
St Joseph's doctor
Brenda Braxton
dancer with John Artis
Christopher Riordan
jury foreman
Buena Vista International (UK)
13,088 feet
145 minutes 26 seconds
Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound/SDDS
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011