Murder in the First

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +3

Content: -2 1/2

Set in the late 30s and early 40s, this is the sad true-life tale of Henri Young (Kevin Bacon) who went to prison for stealing $5. After a failed escape attempt from Alcatraz, Young spends three years in the dungeon-like darkness of solitary confinement. When he emerges, blue-faced and animal-like, he murders the convict who spoiled the escape plan. Neophyte public defender James Stamphill (Christian Slater) is assigned to Young's "open and shut" murder case. Slowly, he draws Young out of his near-catatonic state with the help of baseball trivia and a prostitute. Stamphill builds an ingenious and credible defense charging the state prison system with turning a petty thief into a lunatic killer through inhumane treatment. Fired from his job, Stamphill stands up for his values by continuing Young's defense as a private attorney. Fluid camera work and brilliant performances by Bacon and Slater make this a gripping, albeit depressing, film.

MURDER IN THE FIRST is dark and disturbing in two ways. First, the inhumane treatment of prisoners makes skin crawl. This stark portrayal propels it from a mere story to an indictment of the compassionless people who perpetrated the mistreatment. Second, its frequent foul language and sexual immorality will disturb discerning viewers regardless of the film's topic. As if dying a virgin is worse than torture, Stamphill smuggles a prostitute into Young's cell for four minutes of clumsy sex. Another time, Young fondles himself while talking to a female attorney. The hypocrisy of the prison guards who recite the Lord's Prayer before beating Young is nauseating. Stamphill's refusal to give up Young's cause is a shining example of integrity. Unfortunately, his hiring the prostitute and excessive drinking make him a questionable role model. Most will find this movie just too depressing and vulgar.

Preview Reviewer: Bob Liparulo
Warner Brothers, 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Several (5) times - Mild 2, Moderate 3

Obscene Language: Many (23) times (f-word 11, s-word 8, other 4)

Profanity: Several (8) times - Regular 7 (J, JC, G-d), Exclamatory 1

Violence: Many times - Moderate and severe (beatings and torture; hand sliced with razor; bloody shackles; bloody stabbing in neck; corpse shown; bloody and emaciated body shown; rat gnaws on prisoner)

Sex: Once (with prostitute; obscured)

Nudity: Several times (male rear nudity); near nudity (side view of woman's bare legs to hips)

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: Several times (self-gratification; looks up dress; unconventional sex graphically implied; virginity and voyeurism discussed)

Drugs: Smoking and drinking

Other: Tortured prisoner prays to stay sane; guards ritually pray before committing atrocities; government officials inhumane and compassionless; female attorney verbally accosted

Running Time:
Intended Audience: Adults

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