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Film / The Hurricane

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A 1999 American biographical sports film directed by Norman Jewison and starring Denzel Washington as former boxer Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, who was wrongly convicted of a triple murder in New Jersey, and his fight to prove his innocence. It is based on accounts from Carter's 1974 autobiography and Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton's 1991 book Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Freeing of Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter.

The film also stars John Hannah, Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, Vicellous Shannon, David Paymer, Dan Hedaya, and Rod Steiger.

Not to be confused with the 1937 John Ford film of the same title.

Tropes for the film:

  • Amoral Attorney: Averted, even for the prosecuting attorneys that are just doing their job by keeping Carter in prison at his 1985 Federal District Court hearing. It's that more jarring since we know he's innocent.
  • Artistic License – History: The film has a few problems.
    • The film portrays boxer Rubin Carter as a totally innocent man who is wrongfully convicted of three murders thanks largely to a racist cop who's had it out for him since his boyhood. No evidence exists that the lead detective held any grudge against Carter, and he was described as a jovial man, very different from Hedaya's scowling, tight-lipped portrayal.
    • The film whitewashes Carter's criminal history, depicting Carter as defending himself in boyhood against a pedophile, then being arrested and sent to a juvenile facility by this same racist detective. In reality, Carter was arrested for assaulting and robbing a man, a crime that is not disputed. This was only one of many offenses he committed.
    • Moreover, while Carter's actual guilt or innocence continues to be debated, the film portrays him as having been exonerated by the efforts of three Canadian activists and a young African-American who wrote to him in prison. They did not find evidence showing he was innocent, however, but only some that had not been presented by the prosecution. He was ordered released or retried-New Jersey appealed this ruling, lost, and chose to not retry him again (he had already been retried before in 1976, with another guilty verdict resulting). Carter was thus never exonerated, or even acquitted.
    • To build up the idea of Carter being victimized by racism in the 1960s, he is shown defeating white boxer Joey Giardello, who is then declared to have won anyway. Everyone who attended the real fight, including Carter, agreed that he lost. You can watch it yourself online and make your own opinion. Giardello sued the film producers over this portrayal, settling for an undisclosed sum.
  • Big "NO!": This is reaction of Carter's wife when he gets convicted of three murders, to say the least.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sergeant Della Pesca.
  • Clear My Name: Rubin Carter's main reason for writing his autobiography, which inspired Lesra that someone needs to do this for Rubin.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: Rubin was at the Lafayette bar, when two armed criminals broke in and spread gunfire all over the place. Two white delinquents said they saw Carter running away from the scene, and because white people are obviously better than black people, Carter was declared guilty and fast-tracked into jail with three life sentences. After 19 years of legal struggle, the court finally declared Carter free on account of racism having been the driving force behind his conviction. Although, due to the circumstances of the conviction and shoddy evidence collection and storage, modern forensics isn't able to shed any light on a definitive answer. It is fairly universally held among legal professionals that there certainly was never enough evidence to prove Carter's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" (the burden of proof required for a criminal conviction in the US).
  • Dirty Cop: Della Pesca, based on Vincent De Simone, who was the lead detective of Passaic County, New Jersey who coached witnesses in the homicide case that led to Carter's conviction.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter, a former boxer who is put in prison for killing three people, a crime he may or may not have committed.
    • Lesra Martin, a Canadian who helps Carter get out of prison, along with his three White friends.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Used mildly as Rubin Carter began with the privilege of wearing prison hospital pajamas rather than standard uniforms and clung to an ironclad determination not to adhere in any way to the normal prison lifestyle. Over the sixteen or so years of his confinement, prison guards allowed him various luxuries in his cell out of a combination of pity, belief in his innocence, and appreciation for not making as much of a nuisance of himself as he could have. Eventually, his cell was filled with various posters of civil rights leaders, pieces of African art, a typewriter on which he wrote his memoirs, a small collection of books, and a miniature stove.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Jimmy, the prison guard that befriends Carter.
    • Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who resides the Federal District Court hearing and overturns Carter's triple murder conviction on the basis of "racism rather than reason" and "concealment rather than disclosure".
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: In Carter's own case where the new evidence is found to get him out of prison, his lawyer Myron Beldock urges that they present it in New Jersey state Supreme Court first since the evidence will be destroyed if they lose, but Carter vehemently disagrees as he was tried and convicted twice and was denied one appeal after another during 19 years of being locked up, they should go to Federal Court instead so the evidence can be seen by uncorrupt eyes.
  • White Man's Burden: Three white Canadians adopt and home-school Lesra, a black teenager from Brooklyn. Goes even further when they all decide to look for evidence that proves Carter's innocence and working with Carter's lawyers to free him.