Year of Release: 1995
Director(s): Marc Rocco
Approx. Running Time: 122 minutes
My Rating: 4 stars (Out of 5)
From Back Cover:
"KNOCKOUT ENTERTAINMENT. TERRIFIC PERFORMANCES."
-Bob Strauss, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman star in Murder in the First, the compelling, fact-based story of the trial that shut down the dungeons of Alcatraz. In a haunting performance, Bacon plays convict Henri Young. His crime: heisting $5 for his starving sister. His fate: worse than death. He's confined to the dungeons after a failed escape - an isolation lasting three mind-shattering years. When Henri at last emerges, he's confused, savage, barely human...and he quickly slays the stoolie who ratted on his escape. It's an open-and-shut case of Murder One. But a resolute attorney (Slater) has another option. He and Henri will put Alcatraz and its sadistic associate warden (Oldman) on trial.
This film is essentially propaganda designed to make the viewer sympathize with those who are imprisoned in this country. Claiming to be "inspired by true events," it tells the story of Alcatraz prisoner Henri Young - who the film portrays as nothing more than an orphan turned petty crook trying to support himself and his sister - who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the stabbing of a fellow inmate. According to the film, Young was essentially a gentle soul, driven to madness and violence by the torture he endured while in prison, under a sadistic associate warden.
In truth, a simple internet search reveals that the real Henri Young was indeed a violent man who had commited multiple robberies, taken at least one hostage, and commited at least one murder before "the trial that brought down Alcatraz" (which, by the way, it didn't. Some reform was effected in part due to the trial, but it certainly didn't bring the prison down). And while Young did come from something of a broken home - his parents divorced when he was 14 - he was by no means an orphan. For being a "fact-based film," the movie is almost devoid of factual material. The only actual truths in this film are a) an inmate named Henri Young was held at Alcatraz b) Henri Young attempted to escape Alcatraz and was sentenced to solitary confinement (though not to a "dungeon" as portrayed in the film, nor for the length of time portrayed in the film) c) Henri Young stabbed and killed fellow inmate Rufus McCain d) He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the crime.
All that aside, if you take this movie as the fictional tale that it is and view it only in regards to its value as entertainment, it's a very moving film - with fantastic performances by a stellar cast - that does everything it is designed to do. It just doesn't tell the truth.
That being said, as a piece of entertainment, I'll allow the film to retain its four-star rating. If, however, I were to rate the film based on its claims, I'd be generous to give it even half a star.
Rated R (MPAA)