THE HURRICANE (A-3,
R): The improbable story of boxer Rubin (“Hurricane”) Carter is a
rare movie which has meaning and power. The title performance by Denzel
Washington is probably the best of his already memorable career. And
the dominant messages are clear: Love beats hate, and people working
together can do what even the strongest individual alone can’t do.
This movie by veteran
director Norman Jewison is based on several books, including Carter’s
autobiography. Carter was a tough New Jersey ghetto kid targeted by
Carter, who is bounced
in and out of trouble and jail, withdraws, recharges and disciplines
his inner strength. He fights his way to the top of his profession
in the 1960’s, then is convicted of an unlikely, senseless shooting
and sent back to prison for life.
He always maintains
his innocence and his case becomes a famous liberal cause. But Carter’s
lawyers run into dubious witnesses and fail in two retrials.
The providential break
comes when three white Canadians are mentoring a promising young African
American (Lesra Martin, played by Vicellous Reon Shannon). He wants
to enter college and they’re helping him learn to read. His first
book, picked randomly from a pile for 25 cents, is Carter’s autobiography.
Lesra writes to The
Hurricane, and they develop a touching father-son relationship. Lesra
and his friends throw themselves into the case with selfless investigative
work, moving to New Jersey and restarting the appeal. After 19 years,
Carter is exonerated and free.
This complex story is
about love, hate and friendship. It’s a boxing movie, prison movie,
gritty social drama, detective thriller, tangled courtroom-legal combat.
Washington’s Carter has strength, dignity and courage.
For the Canadian Jewison,
whose film repertoire ranges from In the Heat of the Night
to Moonstruck, the subject is racism and injustice, but the
emphasis is on hope and redemption. (Compare it to Dead Man Walking
and In the Name of the Father.) Gritty but uplifting; recommended
for mature viewers.
THE GREEN MILE (A-3,
R), also a prison movie, is a semi-religious parable about a gentle,
compassionate miracle worker. An itinerant black field hand in Louisiana
in 1935 ends up (mistakenly) on Death Row, where he interacts with
the guards and other doomed convicts.
This Stephen King story
focuses on the guards. All whites, they are humanized instead of demonized,
especially their leader, Paul (Tom Hanks), who runs the execution
block as kindly and efficiently as he can. His instrument, however,
is the basic model electric chair, “Old Sparky.”
The story is built on
the contrast between this official business of death and the life-force
represented by convict John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). He’s a
huge, muscled black man, a childlike, pure-of-heart Christ figure
who has the power of healing.
He restores the squished
body of the cellblock’s pet mouse, crushed under the heel of the unit’s
sadist psycho guard (superbly rotten Doug Hutchison). If Coffey can
really work miracles, Paul and his pals hope he can do something for
the warden’s young wife, who is suffering from a brain tumor. This
leads to a splendid, if improbably staged, moment of grace.
Mile drones on
for three hours with murky fervor. But writer-director Frank Darabont
has some eloquent passages relevant to racism and capital punishment
(among them, the most horrific electrocution ever filmed). The Death
House characters are (ironically) intriguing and alive.
In trying to show how
the divine may work in human life, however, Mile is more mystifying
than the mystery it hopes to illuminate. Fine acting, some power,
some excess, and probably too much loving care.
TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY
(A-4, R) is a somewhat lurid version of the dark side of the American
Dream. Its loner protagonist Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) has a pathological
craving to escape his drab poverty and menial work life. He exploits
his special talents as a musician and ingratiating con man to penetrate
the upper crust, the spoiled leisure class of beautiful young Americans
in 1950’s Italy. Then he desperately becomes a serial murderer to
Tom begins by persuading
a shipping magnate he’s an old college pal of his son Dickie (Jude
Law), and is dispatched to Europe to reel him back from his wastrel
ways. But instead Tom falls for both la dolce vita and Dickie,
a dazzling playboy.
After an ugly argument
at sea, Dickie dies bloodily. Unrepentant Tom assumes his identity
and wealth. Tom keeps the ruse going, juggling varied friends who
know him as either “Tom” or “Dickie.” Gwyneth Paltrow, as Dickie’s
luminous and obviously endangered fiancée, and Philip Seymour Hoffman,
as an obnoxious and suspicious rival, provide strong Hitchcockian
Tom is a smooth, high-I.Q.
psycho, a politically incorrect gay villain. His pathetic life is
an adult moral quagmire. Our mounting outrage at the apparent success
of each new crime is appropriate. You can see why Damon, the cast
and director Anthony Minghella (adapting the Patricia Highsmith novel)
enjoyed the artistic challenge and the marvelous touristy locales.
But two and a half hours with Tom is a bit much for the audience.
Suspenseful, well-crafted but frustrating character study; satisfactory
CIDER HOUSE RULES
THE CIDER HOUSE RULES
(O, PG-13): This adaptation by John Irving of his 1985 novel follows
the early life of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), a gentle youth raised
as an orphan during the 1930’s at the fictional St. Cloud’s in rural
Maine. Unlike most movie orphanages, St. Cloud’s is womb-like and
benign, protective of its unwanted and sometimes poignantly ill children.
It’s operated by the kindly Dr. Larch (Michael Caine), a gynecologist
and philosophical humanist who also quietly performs abortions, which
were then illegal.
Homer, a bright and
apt pupil, is groomed as Larch’s (unlicensed) successor. But he resists
taking part in abortions. Coming of age in 1943, he goes off to experience
the outside world. Working at an apple farm on the nearby seacoast,
he falls in love with a young wife (Charlize Theron) whose husband
has gone to war. He also becomes friends with migrant apple pickers,
where he’s forced to make a decision regarding a pregnancy resulting
from a case of father-daughter incest.
Homer returns to St.
Cloud’s to carry on the tradition of his mentor Larch, who has died.
In both the book and film, Irving favors abortion.
family love of varied kinds and moral worth. It makes a heartcracking
case for adoptions, with its appealing images of forgotten older children,
desperate for love, who will never be adopted.
Director Lasse Hallstrom
(the fourth involved in the project) tiptoes through the sentimentality
and makes the environments of St. Cloud’s and the orchard/cider mill
fresh and credible. Delroy Lindo is crucial and superb as the complex
leader of the migrant family. Controversial adult material, gentle
and civilized but a bit draggy and emotionally confused; not recommended.
QUIZ SHOWS: The ratings
surge, which has inspired the return of prime-time quiz shows (Who
Wants to Be a Millionaire, Twenty One and others), is superficially
puzzling. Didn’t we have enough in the 1950’s, when the need to retain
popular contestants week after week led to cheating and to the then-new
medium’s biggest scandal?
It doesn’t seem like
much fun to watch other people win or lose large amounts of money.
But spiritually minded Americans tend to forget they live in a consumer
culture in which money (and what it can buy) is the object of almost
all activity. Americans also like spectator sports. Lottery winners
become celebrities, symbols of materialistic hope.
The economy is on a
roll and many Americans have money, but not the big money people win
on game shows.
Some argue that at least
you’re not embarrassed when watching game shows with kids and grandparents.
But maybe the conscience just isn’t working. It’s hard, in this environment,
to teach kids that greed (like adultery) is a sin. Sacrifice
has become a peculiar word. “Sacrifice for the common good,” as a
phrase, has all but disappeared. It’s probably not good for the Catholic
spirit to spend a lot of time watching anguished strangers on TV in
pursuit of big bucks.
PATRICK, THE IRISH LEGEND
ST. PATRICK, THE IRISH
LEGEND (Fox Family Network, March 12, repeating March 17) The timing
is right for this new movie by producer-director Robert Hughes. Dublin-born
Patrick Bergin, who has played many heroes (Robin Hood) and
bad guys (the obsessive ex-husband in Sleeping With the Enemy),
gets to play the saint. The cast includes veterans Alan Bates, Susannah
York, Malcolm McDowell. The Chieftains and Clannad are among those
who provide music.
THE DECALOGUE makes
its long-awaited debut on home video March 28. This is the widely
acclaimed 10-hour film (made in 1988-89 as a miniseries for Polish
television) by writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It’s one of 15
movies chosen to have special merit “for values” by the Vatican in
1995 to help mark the 100th anniversary of cinema. Its only U.S. theatrical
exposure was a tour of a few art cinemas, winning raves from major
Each episode of about
one hour, set in a contemporary Warsaw apartment complex, dramatically
takes on a commandment and explores its relevance.
one of the greatest European film artists, died in 1996 at age 54
after heart-bypass surgery. Episodes of The Decalogue will
be reviewed here from time to time. The five-volume boxed set, with
two stories per cassette, is in Polish with English subtitles. (To
order, call Facets Multimedia at 800-331-6197. Cost is $99.95 plus
$4.75 for shipping and handling.)