Murder in the First

Movie review by
Sarah Wenk, Common Sense Media
Murder in the First Movie Poster Image
Moving story of justice but too intense for kids.
  • R
  • 1995
  • 122 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Extremely graphic scenes of torture.


Some nudity.


Very Strong language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this prison drama contains extremely graphic scenes of torture and some nudity. The scenes of suffering are very disturbing, and are most definitely inappropriate for kids and young teens.

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What's the story?

Loosely based on fact, MURDER IN THE FIRST centers on Henri Young (Kevin Bacon), a petty criminal who tries to escape from Alcatraz in 1928. As punishment he is placed in solitary confinement for over three years. Upon his release, he murders a fellow prisoner. His guilt is indisputable, but his lawyer (Christian Slater) puts the prison on trial, claiming that Young's abuse at the hands of a sadistic warden (Gary Oldman) drove him to commit the crime.

Is it any good?

This drama is very interesting, but the many early scenes of torture and abuse, as well as those of Young's endless imprisonment in utter darkness and solitude, are very difficult to watch. They serve the story -- without some understanding of what he endured, it would be difficult to understand what is at stake in his trial. But nonetheless, they are very disturbing and upsetting to view.

Kevin Bacon is brilliant as Young, managing to convey his humanity even when he is most damaged by what was done to him. The courtroom drama is compelling, Slater is fine as a young, idealistic attorney, and Oldman is menacing and scary as the warden. The direction is rather flat and the soundtrack rather turgid, but if you can get past the torture scenes, the human drama is very touching and beautifully played. Families with older teenagers may find this an unusual and disturbing look at the prison system, but it's inappropriate for younger viewers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of the prison at Alcatraz and of the American penal system in general. Although the movie is only loosely based on fact, it raises questions about how prisoners are treated that merit consideration.

Movie details

  • In theaters: September 13, 1995
  • On DVD or streaming: September 13, 2003
  • Cast: Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon
  • Director: Marc Rocco
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 122 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: scenes of extremely graphic violence and torture, strong language, and sexuality
  • Last updated: September 21, 2019

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