The Chamber (1996)

reviewed by
Tim Voon

                            THE CHAMBER 1996
                      A film review by Timothy Voon
                       Copyright 1997 Timothy Voon
       2 :-( :-(  for the non-engaging story of a death row inmate

Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Lela Rochon, Raymond Barry, Bo Jackson, Robert Prosky Director: James Foley Screenplay: William Goldman and Chris Reese based on the novel by John Grisham

I do not hold strong views on capital punishment either way. After watching "The Chamber" I ended up disliking the offender so much so, that I remained unsympathetic when the gas went up and his mouth began to foam at the sides. "Dead Man Walking" is by far the best movie on the subject. It left audiences hurting on the inside when the electrical volts surged a minute past midnight. Then again "Dead Man" is also the better adaptation and story.

Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman) is the central character in this John Grisham movie. This Klan member, terrorist and murderer now awaits execution on death row. The situation becomes intense when the lawyer assigned to defend Cayhall, is also his grandson Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell). However, little effort is made to help the audience understand a man about to face death. The glib reason given to explain Cayhall's past actions is that he is a product of years of hating, and three generations of Klan influence. Will the audience empathise with him? This man was a monster most of his life and remains a monster throughout most of the movie. There is a sudden change of heart towards the end when death perhaps makes him reflect on the error of his ways, but it seems too little too late.

Director James Foley focuses mostly on the plot of this movie when he should have perhaps focused more on the characters. "Dead Man Walking" worked well because time was spent discovering the plight of the man who walked the tight rope between life and death. In this movie both grandfather and grandson waste precious minutes bickering with each other instead of resolving the ghosts which haunt their past. So much so that the missing years of their lives remain a mystery, as the door of opportunity closes behind them.

Sam Cayhall is another detestable character in the long line of detestable characters played by Gene Hackman and he's good at it. This is not the long awaited defining movie for young Chris O'Donnell; better luck next time. This is not the come back film for Faye Dunaway who looks well beyond her years, which suits her character well. All in all, by far the most disappointing of Grisham's movies.

Timothy Voon

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