Time: 120 mins.
Genre: Courtroom Drama
SYNOPSIS: An eager and idealistic young attorney, James Stamphill, defends an Alcatraz prisoner, Henry Young, accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement. His defense: that life on Alcatraz, at the hands of a merciless warden turned Young into a killer.
BOTTOM LINE: This could have been just another movie about prison injustice if it weren't for the powerful performances of this great cast. The story IS nothing all that new, but Kevin Bacon will astonish you as a prisoner reduced to a hollow shell of a man after intense inhuman treatment at the hands of the prison warden. He is an inmate/petty criminal being tried for murdering another prisoner. It's Slater's job as his fresh-faced lawyer to prove that the prison turned this timid, uneducated man into a killer due to neglect and blatant abuse and to save his client from execution.
The fact that this story is true, lends it a little more weight than it otherwise would have. That the action takes place on Alcatraz gives it additional cache. Gary Oldman gives a ferocious turn as the vicious warden who uses religion to justify his actions. It's his attitude that ensures the audience will root for Bacon despite his fairly unlikable personality. Though the characters played by Bacon and Slater would never have been friends in the outside world, the relationship that develops as they try Bacon's case, is one of mutual respect and deep affection.
While the two of them are onscreen together the film takes on a life of its own, giving a spark and energy to the proceedings the rest of the movie lacks. Bacon truly transforms himself and Slater delivers intelligence and heart in his first serious adult role. They are the only people you care about, so the rest of the courtroom shenanigans are fairly boring. This is a decent, well-written drama made better by the talent of its leads.