HURRICANE, THE - HD DVD review

Denzel Washington is an awesome actor...

DeanWink

Some stories based upon true-life events seem too good to be true. Their amazing stories are so incredible that it is hard to believe that the events depicted in the film actually happened. "The Hurricane" starring Denzel Washington is a film that tugs on the heart strings and makes for an amazing story, but it is one that always seems to be quite possible. However, after watching the film and doing a little research on the controversy surrounding the film, "The Hurricane" is a story that is actually too good to be true and many of the elements of the film did not actually happen. "The Hurricane" is a parable loosely based upon the actual events of the real life imprisonment and eventual release of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, but many details that would sway audience opinion are omitted and fictitious characters are introduced to help create a feeling that the main character is a martyr of racist and crooked police officers and an unjust justice system.

Regardless of the controversial and fictitious elements of "The Hurricane," actor Denzel Washington and the supporting cast drive this film along with emotion and believability. Denzel earned a well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance and the greatest strength of the film is not its story, but the actor bringing Hurricane to life. I enjoy "The Hurricane" and always felt overly sympathetic for its main characters. The film paints a strong picture against a corrupt legal system and Denzel Washington creates a portrayal of Rubin Carter that needs not beg for sympathy from his audience. Vicellous Reon Shannon, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, John Hannah, Dan Hedaya, Vincent Pastore, David Paymer, Rod Steiger and Clancy Brown are familiar faces who also lend credibility to this not-completely true depiction of a story that actually happened.

Rubin Carter (Washington) is a young man and prizefighter who finds himself in and out of prison as a youth. Much of his troubles stem from a self defense situation where a young Carter stabbed a man and a racist detective, Detective Sergeant Della Pesca (Dan Hedaya), who leaned on Rubin and put him behind bars throughout his growing up and eventually served a major role in placing the Hurricane behind bars for the purported murder of three people. Pesca claimed witnesses saw two negro males leaving the scene of the murders in a white car and Rubin and his friend fit the description offered up by Pesca. With witnesses dying, refusing to testify and presenting lies to convict Carter, he ended up with a life sentence and prison. Carter later had an appeal, but was again found guilty by a jury. Carter resigned himself to a life in prison and wrote his tale in a book called "The Sixteenth Round."

A young man, Lesra Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon), finds a copy of Rubin's book at a mass book sale. Martin is a troubled youth from Brooklyn, New York and finds himself under the care of three white Canadians who give Lesra an opportunity to seek an education and make something of his life. Lisa Peters (Deborah Kara Unger), Sam Chaiton (Live Schreiber) and Terry Swinton (John Hannah) buy real estate, fix it up and sell it to make a profit. In their spare time, they help Lesra become a better man and soon take up Lesra's interest in Rubin Carter and his wrongful imprisonment. After an initial meeting with Carter, Lesra brings the three Canadians to meet with Carter and their interest in the imprisoned boxer soon lands them in America with a promise that they will not return to Canada until they can take the Hurricane home with them.

The four people dig deep into the case of Rubin Carter and turn up many inconsistencies and fallacies in the facts that have convicted Carter. They slowly build their case and bring hope to Carter and his hopes to one day become a free man. Many of the witnesses have died, while others refuse to testify. Pesca threatens the three and more and more evidence builds suggesting that Pesca and the prosecutors have worked hard at making of living in keeping Carter behind bars. Against all odds, the create a case file and bypass the New Jersey justice system and take the case directly to a Federal Court and Judge Sarokin (Rod Steiger). Here, they face a possibility of having the evidence lost forever, or the possibility of the Federal court listening and giving Rubin "Hurricane" Carter the fair trial he was never privy of.

"The Hurricane" creates an image of Rubin Carter as a man with a violent past that was a victim of circumstance and a victim of a racist cop. The movie creates a vision of Carter being a commendable soldier and a person who only resulted to violence in defense. In reality, Carter was a violent man who was convicted numerous times in his youth and released from the military for his violent behavior. He was a man who truly was a menace to society as a youth and had a defined violent past. Pesca is a fictional character created for the film. There are numerous other inconsistencies with the actual events of Carter's life that paint a much prettier picture of the man for the film. Carter was wrongfully convicted and he was released from prison. Many other elements in the picture were true. There was just a lot of dramatic license taken in the film to make it more emotionally powerful and to make Rubin Carter a person who an audience may be far more sympathetic towards.

Whether or not the film is more fiction than fact is inconsequential in relation to the entertainment value of the film. Thanks to the performance of Denzel Washington, "The Hurricane" is a worthy picture that brings awareness to a man whom Bob Dylan wrote a song about. The film brings to light the problems that black men had with the law during the Sixties and Seventies. "The Hurricane" is a picture that gives its audience plenty of opportunity to think about what they have seen and feel for a man who spent nineteen years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Director Norman Jewison has created a film that is one of the finest "innocent man in prison" stories. "Cool Hand Luke" and "The Shawshank Redemption" may be finer films, but "The Hurricane" doesn't fall too far behind. Considering this film is also based upon a true person adds value to the picture.

I enjoy "The Hurricane" and consider Denzel Washington one of the finest actors currently employed in Hollywood. I don't particularly care if there is a bit of controversy surrounding the facts in this story. I bought into Jewison's version completely the first two times I watched the film and still feel sympathetic towards Rubin Carter with the same eyes I did when I believed the film was completely accurate. It is a moving picture that shows the monotony of life in prison and the desire of an innocent man that wants to find freedom. It is a story about a young man who reads a book and learns to be a better man because of the story he read. He is also given the opportunity to change the injustices told in the story. These are things I enjoyed with "The Hurricane" and I'm sure I'll revisit the film again at some point in the future.

Video:
Universal presents the seven year old "The Hurricane" with a rather nice 1.85:1 VC-1 mastered transfer. Aside from some minor edge enhancement problems, "The Hurricane" is a solid looking picture with bright and vivid coloring and strong detail. The film's black and white sequences nicely contrast the more colorful moments to create a visually stunning movie that is done justice on HD-DVD. Colors are nicely saturated and bring a natural film look to "The Hurricane." Flesh tones are natural and accurate. Black levels are strong and blacks are equally strong during the film's black and white flashbacks. Detail shows clothing textures, facial features and individual beads of sweat during the films fight scenes. The black and white sequences aren't as detailed as the remainder of the film, but they still look very nice. The stock footage included in the film is grainy and is betrayed by the higher resolution, but the remainder of the film looks very good. Overall, I was pleased with this transfer and felt it was a nice step up from the old DVD release.

Sound:
"The Hurricane" lists Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 multi-channel surround and French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 matrixed surround as its available choices. The 5.1 mix handles "The Hurricane" nicely and presents the sounds of "The Hurricane" cleanly and effectively. The film combines a jazz soundtrack with a few classic rock tunes, including the Bob Dylan "Hurricane." The musical score by Christopher Young is effective and can nicely be heard through each channel. The film contained a few scenes that benefited greatly from a good surround mix. The film's sparse boxing scenes have very nice effects and movement between channels. The film's prison scenes are also effective and show wonderful ambient effects in the steel and concrete prison. Rear surrounds and the .1 LFE channel are used nicely in both the ring and the jail. Dialogue is strong and clean. This isn't a movie that is stunning in its soundtrack, but it is a capable film with a strong mix.

Extras:
The original Collector's Edition DVD finds most of its supplements ported over for the HD-DVD release. The three supplements contained within the film help point out the truths and mistruths of Jewison's picture. The Feature Commentary with Director Norman Jewison finds the director discussing his picture and sometimes becoming lost in what is fact and what is fiction. The director points out many of the mistruths he introduced into the picture, but also focuses on the true events that were contained within the frames of the film. The commentary was interesting, but I felt many of Jewison's statements were questionable. The Spotlight on Location: The Making of The Hurricane (20:05) feature includes the real Lesra Martin and the real Rubin Carter. It also contains Norman Jewison, Denzel Washington and Deborah Kara Unger. This was short, but insightful and I enjoyed seeing the real people within its twenty minutes time. The Deleted Scenes with Special Introduction by the Director (20:17) has the introduction as an optional feature. The four scenes make for a nice inclusion on the disc, but are not overly great on their own merit. Finally, the Theatrical Trailer completes the supplements.

Closing Comments:
Denzel Washington is an awesome actor and his performance in "The Hurricane" makes for a film that can be pretty awesome itself. The overall picture loses some credence after learning that many of the facts in the film are quite fictitious. Regardless of its flaws, "The Hurricane" shows the problems with the legal system and showcases some real-life people who were pretty incredible in their own right. Had most of the events shown in the film been real, then "The Hurricane" would be one of the greatest "Based on a true story" films ever made. As it stands now, "The Hurricane" is one of the better ones, but flawed. Denzel makes it a better film, as does the performances of the supporting cast. Liev Schreiber and Clancy Brown are personal favorites that I enjoyed seeing. The HD-DVD transfer is a decent representation of the film, although it is still a simple port of the former Collector's Edition DVD release.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
4
Film Value
8