Public Enemy Number 1
In the ‘20s, Leavenworth guard Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard) befriended prisoner Carl Panzram (James Woods), who’d broken “every law known to God and man”. Lesser risked his job to allow Panzram to write down his story, which wasn’t published until 50 years later.
Writer/director Tim Metcalfe spends way too much time trying to make this a mushy Shawshank Redemption-style story about the killer & guard relationship, but when he gets into the actual portrayal of the journal’s contents, this movie comes alive as a thrilling, shocking and funny pulp crime story. No doubt inspired by the meatiest role he’s had in years, Woods is surprisingly restrained and much more in control than we’re used to seeing him. In his period costume, he reminded me a great deal of Lon Chaney, Sr. Steve Forrest stands out as a reform-minded warden and Lily Taylor makes an un-credited cameo as a speakeasy barfly. This is perfect fare for True Crime buffs.