Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini


Murder in the First

Murder in the First
Starring:
Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman


Rated: R for language, one sex scene and graphic, extreme violence.
Reviewed by: Chris  
Release date: January 20, 1995 Released by: Warner Brothers

One of the best parts of seeing a good movie is talking it over with your companion afterward. The film, based on a true story, was so realistic and brutal, it was difficult putting feelings into words.

Christian Slater stars as James Stamphill, a young Harvard law graduate working for the public defender's office in 1941. His first case is defending Henri Young (Kevin Bacon), an Alcatraz prisoner charged with murdering another prisoner with a spoon.

Before the opening credits roll, Young is shown in solitary confinement, a dungeon-like stone cell in the basement of the prison. He's naked, tortured and beaten for at least 15 minutes by the sadistic associate warden played by Gary Oldman. It was very had watching the excessive violence that this man endured.

By law, a prisoner could only be in solitary for 19 consecutive days, but Young was kept isolated for over three years, with only a half hour of exercise per year.

Young was originally sent to the "Rock" for stealing $5 when he was a teenager, to feed his young sister. The store he stole from had a post office in the back, making it a federal crime.

Years later, Young and three others try to escape and are caught when a fellow inmate squeals on them. He's put into solitary to make him a "better human being." When he's finally let out, almost raving maniac, he kills the guy who ratted on him.

Oldman, who usually gives a full-blown, over-the-hill performance, keeps it low-key here and therefore he's more scary. A more mature Slater, who has made a career out of playing offbeat parts, settles down and shows his stuff as a serious, passionate lawyer who takes on Alcatraz and the prison system.

Bacon give an Oscar-worthy performance and I hope they remember him this time next year. His portrayal of a broken, maimed man is unbelievably moving.

Director Mark Rocco does some interesting camera work. His camera follows the characters as they pace back and forth from all angles of the room, giving the cell a cramped, closed-in feeling and making the large courtroom seem intimate.

The tale of two young men so close in age but yet so far apart in human experience, is not a pleasant story. But it is very compelling, involving film with marvelous performances.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Murder in the First     B                     B 

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