Based on a true story, this psychological study concerns Henry Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard), a prison guard who witnesses the brutal beating of an inmate, Carl Panzram (James Woods), who attempted to escape. Lesser tries to befriend the convict, whom he senses has an intelligence that has gone unrecognized by his jailers; he gives Panzram a notebook and pencils and encourages him to keep a journal. Panzram responds by writing the story of his life of crime -- a shocking litany of violence and brutality in which he takes credit for 21 murders, numerous armed robberies, several acts of arson, and over 1,000 homosexual rapes. Lesser has a difficult time reconciling the intelligent, articulate man he sees in his cell every day with the monster documented in his writings (though as far as anyone can tell, his claims are entirely accurate). Lesser believes that there's a humanity in Panzram that can be brought out, and that he can be redeemed and perhaps rehabilitated. Panzram, however, doesn't seem so convinced; his violent behavior continues behind bars, and attempts by opponents of the death penalty to prevent his execution only inspire his scorn -- as he sees it, society made him a killer, and it's society's responsibility to stop him once and for all. Killer: A Journal of Murder was the first directorial project for screenwriter Tim Metcalfe.
by Mark Deming synopsis