Barely a week after Denzel Washington bagged himself a Golden Globe for his portrayal of boxer "Hurricane" Carter, America's league of cynics whipped the knives out. With magnifying glass poised over the history books, the page-prodding analysts started seething at the apparent injustice of Norman Jewison's take on events. Lawyers didthe all legal legwork, not three liberal Canadians. Lieutenant Jimmy Williams was a phantom cop cooked up to personify a racist police force. And, wrongful incarceration or not, Carter was far from being a saint.
Accused of massaging the facts for the sake of a sentimental spin, the film's producers took the step of answering their critics on the movie's official Web site. They're convincing replies, but such twittering detracts from the real argument here. If you want the facts, go watch a documentary. If you want spectacle and emotion and exhilaration, go to the cinema. And The Hurricane makes for terrific cinema.
That's not to say it doesn't stumble at first. It might be more rewarding on a second viewing, but the fact remains a slow opening sputters on five false starts. In the space of its first 20 minutes, the crammed narrative kicks off in 1963 with Carter whisking fists in a Raging Bullish boxing bout, flips a decade to `73 with Carter chewing his lips in Trenton State prison, backpeddles to the triple-shotgunning of `66 and then flashbacks to his childhood.
It's obviously intended as both a time-trip through an incarcerated Carter's ever-rewinding subconscious and a viewer's introduction to the issues at stake, but the Russian-doll intercutting is complex and cluttered. It's only when the movie gets into its stride that the jigsaw slots together. As soon as Lesra becomes directly involved with the campaign to free Carter, the telling of a truly remarkable tale takes hold. And by that time - thanks to Jewison's increasingly assured direction - you'll be totally hooked.
Given the ambitious scope of an event-led biopic which spans several decades, it could be argued that a slightly simplistic screenplay never truly explores Carter's oft-hinted spiritual shadings. Yet if the script fails to drill under Carter's skin, Washington certainly does. Fleshing Rubin with multiple nuances and binding a stoic dignity into his despair, Washington's charisma means you're rooting for him from victim to victor.
Newcomer Shannon is also brilliant. Forming the movie's emotional epicentre, the scenes between the surrogate father and son pump with poignancy. Granted, an epic running time prompts the occasional narrative dawdle, but a genuinely uplifting finale is guaranteed to send you home gasping on the kind of magnificent high only cinema can deliver. You'll be KO'd.