A horrors-of-prison-life diatribe that abruptly becomes an earnest courtroom drama, MURDER IN THE FIRST is filled with good intentions. It's based on a true story, but the conflicts are painted in such stark shades of black and white that it seems entirely forced and implausible, despite an excellent performance by Kevin Bacon. The film opens with a mock newsreel story about the 1938 attempt by four convicts to escape the notorious island prison on Alcatraz. Two died and two were returned to jail, where one ratted to prison authorities. The other, Henri Young (Kevin Bacon), is tortured and thrown into solitary confinement by sadistic Warden Glenn (Gary Oldman). Young spends three years in solitary, lying naked in the dark and filth. Young is finally released into the general population, where he promptly kills the inmate who betrayed him. He's transferred to a jail in San Francisco to stand trial for first-degree murder, and his case is assigned to an untried eager beaver named James Stamphill (Christian Slater). To everyone but Stamphill, it's clear that the young lawyer has been given the case because it appears open-and-shut: the court-appointed lawyer is expected to do nothing more than grease Young's path to the electric chair. Stamphill's older, savvier brother (Brad Dourif) advises him not to rock the boat. To make matters worse, Young is a most unprepossessing client: withdrawn, silent and crippled (the result of one of Glenn's many savage assaults), he's a pitiful but not necessarily sympathetic figure. Stamphill takes it all as a personal challenge. First he coaxes Young to talk to him--baseball provides the link that finally brings the two men together--then gets him to tell him how his life took the sorry course it did.