James Woods gives one of his finest performances in this flawed but fascinating film about imprisoned serial killer Carl Panzram, who was hanged in 1930 after he beat a prison worker to death--the last of a reported 21 kil... more »lings. The film centers on the tentative trust and friendship between Panzram and prison guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard), whose attempt to understand Panzram's violent life leads him to believe that Panzram could redeem himself from a life of crime. Told primarily in flashbacks, Panzram's story unfolds as Lesser reflects upon its significance. In reality Panzram's life was a constant succession of unspeakable acts and violent crimes; for the purposes of the film, writer-director Tim Metcalfe attempts to humanize Panzram's story, leaving the viewer to decide if Panzram was deservedly executed, or the victim of his own miserable past. The film's ambivalence--and its tendency to leave crucial questions unanswered--lessens its impact as a biographical drama, but Woods and Leonard work superbly together, and Metcalfe's script paints a vivid portrait of the criminal mind. The DVD includes a full-length director's commentary that fills in some of the factual details that the film leaves out. --Jeff Shannon« less
dluxcheez | Needham, MA United States | 01/03/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Based upon a true story by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long, this film stars James Woods (Citizen Cohn, Ghosts of Mississippi) as Carl Panzram, a convict who admits to multiple murders. The film opens with a narration by Henry Lesser (Harold Gould, best known as a television actor on shows including Rhoda and The Golden Girls), recounting the Panzram's story. We then see the young Lesser (is that lesser Lesser?), played by Robert Sean Leonard (Swing Kids), about to start his new job as a prison guard at Leavenworth -- it is the late 1920's. Panzram has been incarcerated at Leavenworth for burglary. He is a wise-ass and the more he mouths off the more the guards beat on him, and the more they beat on him the more he mouths off, and the more he...well, you get the picture. After one particularly brutal beating that leaves Panzram's face a bloody pulp, Lesser -- the guard with a heart -- encounters him and takes an interest in him. He wants to know more about him -- what has brought him here, why is he being beat upon by the other guards, etc. Lesser even breaks the rules and gives him a dollar, enough to buy him a hefty supply of cigarettes and candy bars. Panzram tells Lesser that he is in fact a brutal killer, and wants to document his life and turn it over to him. Problem is that pencils and paper are also forbidden. Fear not, for Mr. Lesser comes through again, after some initial trepidation. What Lesser reads is horrifying. Panzram admits to killing 21 men, which we see flashed in kind of a newsreel fashion. He recounts a time when he was incarcerated under a Warden Charles Casey (Steve Forrest) who tried to rehabilitate him and the system. He allowed him to go on unsupervised furloughs, so long as he returned that night, which he always does. It blows up when he rapes a woman (Ellen Greene, Little Shop Of Horrors) he befriends from the local library and Casey is fired. Finally Panzram tires of the beatings being inflicted upon him by the guards and kills one of them in a disturbingly violent scene. Panzram is sentenced to death for his crime, as is his wish. The film is a study of the curious (to me anyway) relationship between a kind-hearted, religious prison guard and a brutal monster of an inmate. What drew Lesser to this man? Granted he is a highly intelligent individual, but he displays little redeeming qualities. His kindness to Lesser consists merely of not filling him. In the movie it only says Panzram killed 21 men, but gives no other details of his crimes. By doing a little searching, I was able to find a more specific account as follows: His criminal career started early enough -- he was eight when first convicted (drunk & disorderly conduct). Three years later, a string of burglaries landed him in reform school. During his stint there, he torched a building. He would leave the institution at age thirteen, filled with the knowledge that last him a lifetime -- "how to steal, lie, hate, burn and kill". Paroled into the gentle arms of his mother, he promptly ran away to pursue a hobo's life. In a boxcar, he was gang-raped by four "burly bums", who taught him another valuable lesson -- "force and might make right". Following a stint in the army (which culminated in a court-martial and three years at Leavenworth) he embarked on a career of spectacular brutality. Traveling around the globe -- South America, Europe, Africa and back to the US -- he left a wake of corpses. With proceeds from a heist, he bought a ship and lured ten sailors aboard with the promise of free bootleg liquor. After the seamen drank themselves into a stupor, Panzram raped them, shot each one in the head and dumped them in the briny blue. Later, in West Africa, he hired eight native guides to help him hunt crocodiles. Once again, he raped and murdered them all -- then fed their bodies to the crocs for sport. James Woods is fantastic as the brutal Carl Panzram. Anyone who has seen him in The Onion Field or Citizen Cohn knows this guy can act with the best, particularly is the "bad guy" role (I also hear he's wonderful in Ghosts Of Mississippi). He displays both the intelligence and the brutality of his character. His performance alone is worth your $3.25. Panzram pens his journal with the idea of showing how his life of crime and murder is a result of society. He is a product of the system -- of the people he has encountered and the prisons he is incarcerated in. Able to take it no more, he lobbies for his own execution. So the "purpose" of the film seems to be an effort to back the "environmental" theory of criminality as well as a call for prison reform. It should also be noted that the movie was filmed in Connecticut and Rhode Island and produced by Oliver Stone. Until next time, the Cheese reminds you, "that ain't butter!""
Woods is convincing, but the film seemed simplistic.
dluxcheez | 08/21/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I just watched Killer-A Journal of Murder. Two things appealed to me enough to watch the movie: James Woods was in it, and it appeared to have a story similar to Murder in the First, a film with Christian Slater.I was not disappointed with Woods' performance; he is one of my favourite actors, because he makes you forget he is an actor playing a role. Although he seems to mostly play bad guys or men with psychological problems, he has not yet let me down in my anticipation of his performances.However, this movie left a lot to be desired. It presented the main character as a seemingly unjustly persecuted man, who had been let down by the system. Portraying his friend Henry Lesser as a grandfatherly type early in the picture tried to appeal for sympathy for the friend of a man, whom I later found out on the net was a brutal killer and all-around bad dude.As I mentioned before, Murder in the First (with Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon and Gary Oldman) is a similar tale, although I much preferred that movie over this one."
James Woods deserves Oscar
L. Bernard | Asheville, NC USA | 09/06/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I for one fail to understand why James Woods did not get an Oscar for this fine performance except possibly for the fact that this movie is too powerful for most stomachs. As someone who works in the Juvenile prison system, and as a Jew, a relate so strongly to the feelings of helpless outrage felt by the guard. I feel this movie should be required in all temples, synagogues, criminal justice programs, social work programs, psychology programs and recommend it for anyone who wants to see the depths and heights and realites of living in this world. It is so finely tuned, I fail to see the flaw referred to to in the review."
Not Completely Convincing, But Still Well-Done.
Mr. Fellini | El Paso, Texas United States | 11/17/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Killer: A Journal Of Murder" is not as deep as itpretends to be. It doesn't really dwelve into the mind of a killerlike other movies. But it's still pretty interesting and the viewer never really wants to stop watching it. The heart of the film is intriguing: A young gaurd is fascinated by the perverse and dark life of the most dangerous man in the prison. The screenplay is vicious and gritty (even a nice librarian gets raped) and the characters though not perfect, are still well-written to a certain extent. I wasn't riveted, but I was interested and it did make me think for a while. This is more about the lure of evil and it's mechanics and maybe even redemption. Not a masterpiece, but still a good film."
Low budget film showcases James Woods talent
Schtinky | California | 04/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Carl Panzram (the talented James Woods) is arrested and jailed for theft, but while in prison confesses to killing 21 men (while being beaten by the prison guards). Newly appointed prison guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard) feels sorry for Carl after seeing how badly he's been beaten, and gives the prisoner a dollar (a lot of money back in the 1920's). Thus starts up a very strange friendship.
Lesser, against the rules, provides Carl with pencil and paper for Carl to write down his life story. We're taken back through Carl's life, mostly with flashbacks, to the mayhem his life had been. It seems the only time he attempted normal behavior was under a warden named Casey who actually trusted Carl until Carl, while out on one of his daytime trips, rapes an innocent librarian (played by Ellen Greene - Little Shop Of Horrors).
While 'Killer' isn't a fast paced movie, it's nonetheless a very good movie. James Woods plays his role as a sociopath to perfection. The use of occasional black-and-white photography, the costume design, the props, and the old stills really create the atmosphere of the era. The dialogue is sharp and realistic. (Carl: "I do not intend to plead for pity or sympathy or mercy. What I demand is justice. You created me. Now you kill me.") The scene where the preacher comes to Carl's cell is priceless.
Overall, if you liked 'The Green Mile' or just like James Woods' work, you should pick up or rent a copy of this film. Though obviously low budget, it works very well. Enjoy! "