IN THE EYE OF A STORM; in Denzel Washington's Latest Controversial Film, He Plays Boxer Rubin 'The Hurricane' Carter Who Was Wrongly Jailed for a Triple Murder
Quinn, Thomas, The Mirror (London, England)
A vicious left hook cuts through the air and connects with a dull thud, and as his opponent reels from its impact, Denzel Washington lightly dances away, throwing blind jabs. The fighting is brutal as Washington relives the bouts of one of America's most infamous boxing icons, Rubin Carter - The Hurricane.
To portray a man 20 years his junior, 45-year-old Washington shed three stones and toned his body into a lean, mean fighting machine as he endured a gruelling daily training routine at the Hollywood Gym on LA's Sunset Boulevard, sparring with pro fighter Terry Claybon. Such was his dedication that he still complains of a swollen hand and floating fragments of bone in his knuckles.
"It gave me headaches and made me sluggish," Denzel recalls. "And there was the memory loss - I forgot I wasn't a boxer.
"Rubin and I look different," he continues. "I'm six-foot and 200 pounds, he's five-eight and 160 pounds. Also, I've got two eyes, but by the time he came out of prison Rubin had only one.
"That was no reason not to do the film, though. I didn't try to emulate The Hurricane's style - it's not like you are playing someone like Ali where a lot of people knew how he boxed. The Hurricane was a vicious left-hooker and I tried to get that, but the rest didn't worry me too much."
If Washington picks up the Best Actor Oscar at Sunday's awards ceremony, then it will be a double victory. Not only will he be the first black man to achieve this accolade since Sidney Poitier 32 years ago, but it will be heralded as a triumph over injustice and racism. For more than three decades it has been claimed that the middle-weight contender Carter was falsely convicted and jailed for 18 years for a triple slaying.
For Washington this is yet another controversial role. In 1987 he portrayed South Africa's black activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom. Five years later he was black rights leader Malcolm X. And he is just as committed to this movie, even if Carter has his detractors.
"The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, says he is innocent. That's good enough for me," Denzel states with the nearest thing his cultured accent can come to a growl. "I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to the criticism. Do these people know what the true representation of the facts really is?
"This film is about real people and you have to combine characters. You've only got two hours or so to tell the story. The truth is you can't include everybody and everything can't be exactly accurate.
"I did a lot of research and the case against Carter didn't add up. They said it was a $180 robbery, but he had on a $400 watch and $500 suit. Then at the second trial they changed their story and said it was race motivated."
The story of The Hurricane goes back to Rubin's hometown of Paterson, New Jersey in 1966 to a backdrop of escalating racial violence across America. Two black men were spotted driving up to the Lafayette Bar & Grill before three white people were gunned down. The star boxer and his friend, a young fan he hardly knew called John Artis, were questioned but released. Five months later they were arrested and put on trial. …