Hurricane Streets (1998)
Directed by Morgan J. Freeman
Cast: Brendan Sexton III, Isidra Vega, Shawn Elliott, David Roland Frank, L.M. "Kit" Carson, Edie Falco, Jose Zuniga, Lynn Cohen, Heather Matarazzo.
1998 89 minutes
Rated: (for violence and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 29, 1998.
"Hurricane Streets," which won an unprecedented three 1997 Sundance Film Festival awards, for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and the Audience Award, is one of the most accurate films about teenagers I've seen in a while.
Marcus (Brendan Sexton III), who lives in the East Village in NYC with his grandmother, is about to turn fifteen, and spends his day stealing petty things from stores with his friends. His mother is in prison, and he hopes that for his birthday, his father will send him a plane ticket so he can visit him in New Mexico. While selling some CD's that he has stolen to a bunch of young kids, he meets a 14-year-old girl, Melena (Isidra Vega), and they quickly become friends, much to the disapproval of her abusive father. To his surprise, Marcus finally does get the ticket to go to New Mexico, but his hopes begin to diminish when he discovers some secrets that his mother has been hiding from him.
Although the story is occasionally a little bleak, at its center is the sweet, gentle love story between Marcus and Melena, played marvelously by Brendan Sexton III (1996's brilliant, "Welcome to the Dollhouse) and newcomer Isidra Vega. To prove that the screenplay is so well-written and unpredictable, director Morgan J. Freeman (not to be confused with the actor) does not include exploitation and sex to their relationship, which is what a typical film would have done, but relies more on the realism of being 15 and in love.
One of the pleasures of, "Hurricane Streets," is watching all of the characters interact with each other, which is basically what the film is about. There is no particular storyline, because it would have put a damper on the effectiveness of the relationships. Watching it, I was surprised by how completely uncliched the film was. Since Marcus is a teenage thief, the banal thing to do would to simply make him act tough and uncaring. Instead, Marcus is a kid with a pretty good head on his shoulders. He does not do drugs, is not promiscuous, but does have the insecurities that teens his age have, and has a very good relationship with his grandmother, who owns a bar.
"Hurricane Streets," did not, or rarely, step wrong until the very ending, which abruptly ends while in midstream, as if the final ten minutes had never been shot. A great many twists and revelations comes during the climax, but they are not solved, and I cared so much for the two main characters of Marcus and Melena that I desperately wanted to see what would happen next. Maybe this is just a sign of an exceptional film, since I got so involved in it, but the conclusion could have been better.
What came before the end, however, was masterfully written and memorably performed. An added bonus was briefly seeing Heather Matarazzo (also of, "Welcome to the Dollhouse), one of the best young actresses working today, as Vega's friend, Ashley. "Hurricane Streets," is a gritty, highly impressive directing debut by Morgan J. Freeman, and I greatly look forward to seeing his next film called, "Desert Blue," which is due out in 1999, and stars Sexton III, Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, among others. To get so many talents in only your second picture is a sign of a talented director.
©1998 by Dustin Putman