You’d think a documentary about a guy who escaped prison to become a poet after twenty years would be interesting. Especially when it’s got a title like “Killer Poet”! You’d be wrong. While it should be possible to make Norman Porter’s life interesting (he’s been charged with double homicide and is serving two consecutive life sentences), the film documenting his story is very straightforward and pretty dull.
Porter escaped from prison, where he was a model prisoner with no hope of parole. Fed up with a system that doesn’t give any leeway to reformation, he ran away to Chicago. Here he developed an entirely new life, making friends, starting community service projects, becoming an active member of the church, and writing poetry. When the feds caught up to him twenty years later, no one in his new community had any idea he had helped kill two people.
In a story that has the potential to be quirky as well as a serious while commenting on the United State’s prison system, “Killer Poet” tends to drag out plot details instead of focusing on what makes the people in the film entertaining. Reading about this case in the newspaper is one thing, but stretching out this case into a 77 minute film is quite another. We need more than a crime reporter going over details. Instead, we need more in-depth interviews with Porter and his friends in order to get a real sense of his character. Clearly, there is a story here. And contrary to popular belief, documentaries don’t have to be a dry way of presenting all of the facts.
On top of that, Norman is not a very good poet. I say that respectfully because God knows I’m a terrible poet and I don’t have two consecutive life sentences holding me down. But in a film that uses his poetry as glue to hold the story together, one would expect something a little. . . better. Instead of calling the film “Killer Poet,” Gray could have called the film “Killer Community Service” and focused on the work that Porter did really well outside of prison. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but the actual film might have been a bit more satisfying.