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A powerful account of injustice and long-delayed redemption
on 6 September 2004
Rubin Carter was wrongfully imprisoned before I was even born, and I'm sure I am one of many who first learned of his shocking case through the telling words of Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane." Dylan was one of many who believed in Carter's innocence and helped raise awareness of the gross injustice he suffered at the hands of the justice system in New Jersey. I do not know all of the facts in the actual case, but I am aware of the fact that this film does not follow the history of events exactly - it's no secret, as a disclaimer of such appears at the beginning of the movie. This is not a documentary; it's a moving tale of prejudice, corruption, and hatred ultimately defeated by love, truth, and honor; as such, it captures the heart and spirit of Carter's tragic story in the most powerful of ways.
You could call what happened to Rubin Carter a travesty of justice, yet even this term barely begins to explain Carter's plight. He was tried and convicted of the murder of three individuals in a New Jersey bar in 1967 for two reasons: he was black and he was successful. He and a fan were heading home in a white car when they were pulled over, hauled over to a murder scene they knew nothing about and then to the hospital to see if anyone could identify them as the murderers - which no one did. This did not stop the lead detective from arresting and trying them for murder - by suppressing evidence and forging documents, not to mention engineering the false testimony of quite impeachable witnesses, the police and prosecutors got their conviction. Rubin Carter's boxing career was over, and this man - who could have been the middle-weight champion of the world - found himself looking at three life sentences for a crime he did not commit.
Much of this film examines Carter's response to the crushing weight of prison and the repeated denials of his appeals over two decades (somewhat strangely, it mentions but does not dramatize the second trial he managed to get - and lose). Along the way, we flash back to the important events of Carter's childhood and early adulthood - including some of his overpowering victories in the ring. Another story converges with Carter's as the movie progresses, though. A young man from Brooklyn, who has been taken under the wing of three working partners in Toronto - who teach him to read and help him prepare for the college education he longs to have - buys Carter's autobiography at a used book sale - it's the first book he has ever bought. Reading Carter's story, young Lesra Martin feels a close connection to the man and decides to write him a letter. A friendship emerges between Carter and Martin, and eventually Martin's Toronto friends and teachers all risk their careers if not their very lives to help Carter win his release from prison. Even though you know how the story turns out, the final scenes are wondrous moments of cinematic art full of raw emotional power.
This movie does run a little long, coming in at just under two and a half hours, but you'll be so absorbed by the story you won't even realize how much time passes. Denzel Washington does a remarkable job as Ruben Carter, and the supporting cast is stellar as well. Hurricane affects you across the whole range of emotions: hatred for the crooked cops and prosecutors, disgust with those who not only feel racism but use it as a weapon to subvert justice and ruin a man, growing admiration for Carter as he deals with year upon year of incarceration, deep respect for those who risk their own livelihoods in order to open the eyes of Lady Justice, and the moving joy of hope fulfilled and the eventual triumph of good over evil. The film may not be historically accurate in all its details, but Hurricane is about as real as it gets. This is just an extraordinary motion picture.