Here comes a story 'bout Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the boxing champion found innocent of murder after two decades in prison. It's a story about injustice, a story about black and white, about forming strong bonds with a stranger, a story about hope and giving up.
Director Norman Jewison is storyteller extraordinaire, skillfully interweaving the dramatic tales of Carter's life and the fight to free him. The passing decades are evoked by rich colours and costumes, framed by convincing boxing scenes. Denzel Washington gives the best acting job of his career as Carter, and the complex man he becomes.
The film reveals how Carter was shaped by a racist, oppressive society that taught him only to fight. A vengeful police detective (Dan Hedaya) from his New Jersey home town frames him for murder. After struggling through two trials and losing his appeal, Carter stops fighting - he doesn't want to need anything the rule-makers can deny him, even freedom.
A heartbreaking scene ensues with his wife Thelma Mae (Debbie Morgan, Eve's Bayou) and he retreats into his cell, channelling his anger into study and using writing as his weapon.
Hope reaches out to him years later in the form of Lesera Martin (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a black teenager from the Bronx who's adopted and educated by a Canadian commune. After Martin encounters Carter's autobiography in a used book sale, he draws the Canadians into a quest to free him.
Jewison tackles the subject of race head on, only backing off by avoiding the real-life Carter's romance with commune leader Lisa Peters (the striking Deborah Kara Unger, The Game). The movie is detail-perfect, from the creaking of an old leather jacket as a police witness shifts in his chair to the line in Carter's nose where it must have been broken.
Fast-paced cuts between different story lines make for an engaging visual experience. Washington has terrific material in the complicated Carter, who's prone to violence yet who wins our respect when he stoically resists the prison's rules. Carter's journey of self-discovery provokes thought even as it stirs our emotions.