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Rising above the script's limitations, Denzel Washington is a knockout in "The Hurricane."

Boxed In

No one may ever know the true saga of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, an African-American boxer convicted of three murders in 1967 and then exonerated of the crimes in 1985. To this day, the case, the evidence and the jury selection remain loaded with complications, assumptions and questionable actions. But few of these make it into Norman Jewison's "The Hurricane." Instead, "The Hurricane" celebrates the human spirit, particularly one man's undaunting faith that the truth shall set him free. "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out." Spoken by Carter, these words form a thematic mantra for Jewison's film. As dramatically unchallenging as that simple message sounds, the script often grinds down into an uninspiring mess. Thank goodness Jewison cast the talented Denzel Washington to portray Carter. Much more mature now than when he played Malcolm X (which was a stunning performance), Washington is nothing short of amazing as the New Jersey boxer who spent nearly 20 years in prison for crimes the courts finally said he did not commit. I cannot praise Washington's performance enough. He gets everything right, from the physical grace and power of the middleweight boxer in the early years to the emotional intensity of a man refusing to give up as he marks the passage of years behind bars. His performance is a TKO, a flawless piece of acting. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the script. Always outspoken about his contempt for the white establishment, the talented, defiant boxer is a great subject for a movie biography. But as penned by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon, Carter has to share the ring with a trio of white social activists. It is sad that on the edge of a new everything — year, decade, century, millennium — Hollywood holds fast to the prejudice of the bottom line. In other words, since the "hero" of this film is an African American, the film's producers felt they had to balance this man's incredible ordeal with "white heroes" in order to attract larger, mainstream audiences. By concocting a fictional drama around this group's investigations, the film blurs how the justice system was manipulated to reward and protect those who convicted Carter and to keep the truth from being told. Equally misguided, they reduce that system-wide racism to the vindictiveness of one bad cop (Dan Hedaya), whom we are led to believe had it in for Carter since childhood. Even if you didn't know that Hedaya's detective Della Pesca was an invention (loosely based on Carter's real, life-long tormentor), he'd seem too bad to be true. Hedaya is a fine character actor, it's just that here he's never given the chance to suggest what motivates his relentless racism and dogged pursuit of Carter. Without some indication of why, his presence is undermined. "The Hurricane" is the type of movie that uses broad stokes of black and white; caring not for the shades of gray which really color our experiences. But as limiting as that may be, there, shining in the middle is Washington. Actors aren't often asked to portray such things as stoicism and inner strength, but that's exactly what the camera wants from Washington. And that's exactly what he delivers. To me, the most powerful scene in the movie comes when Carter refuses to wear a prison uniform. In that single, defiant instant, Washington captures the essence of Carter and his story. Washington makes this

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