Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, pursued by a filthy cop Della Pesca ever since he was eleven years old, now faces three life sentences with John Artis for murders he didn't committ. The detective in charge of the case is the vicious Pesca. Prison life is tough, but Rubin, a sleek and adroit pugilist, finds an inner strength and calm which see him through his hardest days. As appeal after appeal is rejected, he raises his hand; not to box or punch, but to write out his story, "The Sixteenth Round", which draws a lot of attention from American citizens in the 1960s, and even celebrities like Bob Dylan and Muhammed Ali; all to no avail. Just as Carter's strength and grit is flagging, in come three Canadians who charge, like knights in shining armour, to take up his case, and with sheer determination in the face of severe odds, pull him out from behind his prison bars into the sunshine. He is freed through their efforts after twenty years of unjust incarceration.
What we have here is the true story of a man who refuses to get beaten down, no matter what. Denzel Washington makes an excellent Rubin Carter. His moves, his expressions, his attitudes are all a testimony to what a fine actor he makes. But what gives his performance that extra edge is the fact that he is clearly in empathy with the person he is portraying. He understands exactly what Carter was going through at every stage in his life, and it is this element to his acting that makes him a pure pleasure to watch.
The relationship between Lesra (played by Vicellous Reon Shannon), a teenaged boy who starts corresponding with Rubin after reading his book, and Carter is poignantly portrayed. Performances by Deborah Kara Unger (playing Lisa), John Hannah (playing Terry) and Liev Schreiber (playing Sam) are reassuring. Plucky, optimistic and dogged in their approach to Carter's more restrained personality, they make an engaging trio.
Though it is slow-moving and emotional in bits, overall the film is gripping, complete and thoughtfully made. It's sure to put coins in the hat of director Norman Jewison. If for nothing else, go to watch a superb Denzel Washington and veteran Rod Steiger. A cameo role his, but unforgettable.This article was first published on29 May 2000.