At the beginning of "Murder in the First", two prisoners are caught while trying to escape from Alcatraz Island. One of them plays stool pigeon and ends up with little more than a slap on the wrist. The other, played by Kevin Bacon, is submitted to three years of solitary confinement despite regulations that limit such punishment to a maximum of a few weeks. Upon release into the mainstream prison crowd, this paranoid prisoner kills a fellow inmate with a spoon in the middle of a crowded room.
A young public defender, played by Christian Slater, is chosen to represent the prisoner in court. Unable to get much response from his client, the lawyer formulates a defense based on one simple fact. That fact is this: the prisoner was not a violent man before being subjected to the torture of life alone in the dark. Such being the case, Mr. Slater seeks to put Alcatraz itself on trial. The prison's malicious deputy warden (Gary Oldman) and rarely seen chief Warden are put on the stand to testify about the institution's policies.
"Murder in the First" is based on a true story; the one that led to the closing of Alcatraz as a federal penitentiary. Unfortunately, there isn't enough material for a feature length film until one begins to add a carbon copy of the attorney- client relationship found in the movie "Nuts".
I'm partial to films based on fact, but only when they are entertaining to boot. "Reversal of Fortune" and "A Cry in the Dark" are two prime examples. "Murder in the First" captures neither their depth nor their absorbing nature.