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Sometimes the truth reads stranger than fiction -- and often proves much harsher. In Hurricane, the new movie bio of Rubin Carter, the latter is definitely the case. Depicting the epic struggles of "Hurricane" Carter, the No. 1 middleweight boxing contender in the 1970s, this movie inspires with its illuminated portrayal of his false imprisonment and eventual freedom.

In another career defining performance, Denzel Washington infuses his portrayal of Carter with a soulful dignity that demands our attention and respect. Carter's life story taps into all of America's great themes: racism, the struggle to transcend circumstances, and the cost of finding not only freedom but salvation.

Veteran director Norman Jewison based this movie on Carter's prison memoir, The Sixteenth Round. Hurricane follows Carter's life from childhood to his crusade with the Supreme Court when he was fifty years old. Using numerous flashbacks, Jewison skillfully weaves the defining episodes of Carter's life together into a unified whole.

Even from his early years, Carter seemed destined to face such a tragic odyssey. Sent to reform school as a young boy for fighting off a pedophile, the young Carter acquired his lifetime nemesis in the person of his arresting officer, Vincent Della Pesca. Della Pesca shadows Carter for the next forty years. As played by Dan Hedaya, Della Pesca epitomizes the popular notion of a racist cop, almost to the point of caricature. We're never sure why Della Pesca continues to pursue his vendetta against Carter, and this becomes one of the movie's flaws. Just to call Della Pesca "racist" badly understates the situation, for he shadows Carter like a demon throughout both their lives.

In his early twenties, Rubin remakes his life and becomes the "Hurricane," a celebrated boxer. But Della Pesca dogs Carterís trail. Following an unsolved triple murder in a New Jersey bar, Della Pesca frames Carter for the crime and the boxer gets life. 

Underscoring the mythic nature of Carterís story is the parallel story of Lesra Martin, a black teenager who read Carter's book and later helps him win release from prison. Through letters and visits, the two become friends. This father/son-like relationship allows us to penetrate Carter's tough exterior and see the boxerís underlying wounds.

Can you imagine what it would be like to spend literally half your life behind bars for a crime you didn't commit? The movie soaks us in the bitter injustice of this until we practically squirm in our seats. What's more amazing though, is how Carter rises above his hate and empowers himself even in prison.

Hurricane never lapses into sentimentality, but always remains true to Carter's life. Lesra Martin, capably played by the young Vicellous Shannon, learns what it means to transcend the shackles that life places on you. In Carter's memoir, the power of his words becomes clear, and Carterís book echoes throughout this movie. And just as Dylan sings at the movie's start, "Here's the story of the Hurricane," we can't help but recognize it as the story of an extraordinary life, one that made even more special by its truth.  

Gregory Gaston

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