Framed by a white cop for a murder he didn't commit, boxer Ruben 'Hurricane' Carter tries to free himself from the constrains of his cell mentally by studying, picking over his case and writing his autobiography. Seven years later, Carter is still in prison with appeal after appeal being turned down, but his book has found its way into the hands a young student, Lesra who is inspired to study by the lessons in his book. As the two get to know one another through letters and meetings, Lesra and his teachers devote themselves to getting Carter freedom through a successful appeal.
Despite the fact that the basics of the story is interesting and compelling, this film only manages to be reasonable entertaining rather than compelling because it never really goes deeper than the basics. The story of a man wrongfully imprisoning and yet, somehow, overcoming that is going to be worth a look as it offers enough human interest for me to give it a try, but the problem here is that the film will give you a very basic look at the story and this basic feel will stop you getting involved in the story and maybe even make you wonder how much of it has been simplified down. Enough elements of the film remain interesting to cover this gap though and the character of Carter is interesting and semi-inspiring as he is portrayed here; I say 'as portrayed here' because I do not know how real this person I have seen here is. Part of the problem may be Jewison himself as his background is of a time where things could be as simple as, literally, black and white but he brings that view to this movie and the story (and even the truth) appear to suffer as a result.
In Jewison's world there is no complex issues, no legal technicalities, no nothing there is only a good black man who has been framed by bitter, racist cops even though everything points to his innocence; and boy, does Jewison spread it on thick! We trace Paterson's hatred of Carter all the way back to childhood and a scene where he comments on Carter's boxing fame just so we are totally clear that he wanted Carter more than anything! It's a real shame because the truth must be more interesting than this, although I imagine a lot more complex and for the film to just present such a clear cut and simplistic view of real life events not only insults the intelligence of the audience, it also does a disservice to the real life events it represents.
The cast are a big reason most of the film is interesting, or rather Denzel is a big reason it works. How close his Carter is to the real Carter is anyone's guess but his dialogue and his performance are both great. Washington made me believe this man's inner struggle by looks, words, tone of voice this is the performance he deserved his Oscar for, not the more showy (and less controversial) one in Training Day. Shannon is also good even if he is far from central to the film. Unger, Schreiber and Hannah have clearly been told to play 'non-threatening white people' and they are all about as bland as a collection of people as I have seen. There is no meat on their characters and, as a result the three just play them very simple, basic and far too 'nice' to be believable; I'm not suggesting we have more detail on their lives but there was nothing to them whatsoever a real problem when they are asked to carry some scenes near the end by themselves. Hedaya gets paid with a lazy 'racist cop' role that he can do nothing with, while Brown is OK in a return to his Shawshank role. Pastore, Steiger, Yulin and Paymer all add the feeling of depth in minor roles but really this is Washington's film and he is a big reason I found it entertaining.
Overall this was potentially an interesting, compelling and emotional film based on an intriguing real life story of injustice. However the script simplifies the story and characters to the point of being almost a version for people in a rush or without the intelligence to understand more. I cannot understand why the film just brushed past areas that would have made it more interesting (albeit more morally complex) and Jewison is to blame for a film that is very black and white in the portrayal of circumstances and its characters. Washington's performance and well written dialogue makes the film worth seeing but I was surprised by the film's ability to take an interesting and compelling story and simplify it to the point of lacking any real punch (sorry he starts with a pun and he ends with a pun!). Watch once but there are much better examples of the genre and much better sources for hearing Carter's story.