Denzel Washington is ‘The Hurricane’ on Peacock

In 1967, lightweight title contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was sentenced to life in prison for triple murder, convicted on the testimony of two career criminals (themselves once suspects) while New Jersey cops dismissed contradictory eyewitness accounts and buried evidence. Carter put his struggle into words with his autobiography The Sixteenth Round and Bob Dylan immortalized him in song. Filmmaker Norman Jewison draws from both for his angry, passionate, and sometimes frustrating biographical drama The Hurricane (1999).

Denzel Washington plays Carter with eyes burning with anger and seething with fear, his fighter’s body flexing and tensing both in and out of the ring. He vividly brings to life the angry young man who has never stopped fighting: in the streets, in the ring, in prison.

Jewison sketches Carter’s childhood, his rise as a top lightweight boxer, and the fateful bar killings that led to the arrest and incarceration of Carter and a young man named John Artis in bold, vivid strokes. After years of appeals Carter cuts himself off from the outside world to shield himself from disappointment. Enter Lesra (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a young American ghetto kid living in a Canadian commune, so moved by Carter’s autobiography that he writes to him in prison. When they strike up a friendship, each finding inspiration in the other, Lesra’s Canadian “family” (Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and John Hannah) joins the fight to free Carter.

The Hurricane was Jewison’s most passionate work in years; his indignation powers the film. Flashbacks burn with fiery high contrast color, grainy B&W boxing scenes recall Raging Bull in both style and intensity, and the film’s dynamic interplay of point of view and flashbacks layered through the narrative suggest a complexity that, frankly, the screenplay (by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon) never delivers.

Jewison turns Carter’s journey into a mirror of Malcolm X’s struggle from anger to enlightenment, from hate to philosophical reflection, “Hurricane” Carter transformed to Saint Rubin. The script overlooks or even rewrites Carter’s story, as if the filmmakers felt compelled to make Carter likeable to a general audience. Washington loses the fire in his eyes and Jewison reduces the volatile issues of racism and corrupted justice into a vendetta by one vicious, racist cop (Dan Hedaya, fighting to keep his despicable character from turning into a cartoon, and losing) against marked innocent man.

This is the kind of project that would have been person for Spike Lee, who at his best turns contradictions within vivid, vital characters and the social environment that create them into a fulcrum for a lever prying into bigger issues. The Hurricane is powered by righteous fury, but its anger is misdirected.

Denzel Washington earned an Oscar nomination and an Image Award from the NAACP for his performance.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Hurricane [Blu-ray]
The Hurricane [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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