An eager and idealistic young attorney defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.
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Henri Young stole five dollars from a post office and ended up going to prison - to the most famous, or infamous, prison of them all: Alcatraz. He tried to escape, failed, and spent three years and two months in solitary confinement - in a dungeon, with no light, no heat and no toilet. Milton Glenn, the assistant warden, who was given free reign by his duty-shirking superior, was responsible for Young's treatment. Glenn even took a straight razor and hobbled Young for life. After three years and two months, Young was taken out of solitary confinement and put with the rest of the prisoners. Almost immediately, Young took a spoon and stabbed a fellow prisoner in the neck, killing him. Now, Young is on trial for murder, and if he's convicted he'll go to the gas chamber. An eager and idealistic young attorney, James Stamphill, is given this impossible case, and argues before a shocked courtroom that Young had a co-conspirator. The true murderer, he says, was Alcatraz. Written by
This movie didn't do well, in fact drove a talented filmmaker away from directing.
Its because it has powerful characters and powerful actors that viewers snap to one of the six viewing modes they have and read it as a "character-driven" drama. Others were upset that the story deviates from real events rather drastically.
My own view is that this is one of the very few films we have that features a building as a character. This is a traditional trial form, where conflicting and synthesized realities are understood to exist by ordinary viewers. Usually this form is used to support battling stories, or versions of reality. Powerful characters can exist ("Mockingbird," "Few Good Men"), but they are there only as representatives of conflicting realities.
What makes this so interesting is that it is the building itself that is on trial. This is exploited by Rocco to an extraordinary extent. Fincher tried to take this notion to the next level in "Panic Room," but got fired. Too bad, because it is a cinematic thrill of sorts to see someone try to present a space as a character.
Sure, it is unusual and many viewers thought the man was going crazy with his odd camera angels, his swoops, his unusual blocking. But I ask you to watch this and see how the prison is introduced to us, and the supposed core, its antebellum dungeons. Then see the contrasting "open" space of the courtroom where it is to be tried. Slater's opening statement is an amazing exploration of space with one multi-encircling movement.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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