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Nothing annoys me more than sitting through a film I consider to be very
good, or perhaps even excellent, and then reading reviews about it
afterwards that are wholly negative and often very untrue in their
descriptions. "The Chamber," released in 1996, and based on John Grisham's
novel from two years earlier, is one such movie. Having read both the book
and having seen the film, I draw two conclusions. The first is that I
believe the movie to be as good (Perhaps even better) than Grisham's novel.
The second is that the movie is a great piece of film-making; one of the most
mature, thoughtful and intelligent to have come out of Hollywood in the past
few years, especially when one takes into account that it's dealing with
some very complex themes and issues.
Gene Hackman plays Sam Cayhall, the racist bigot from America's ole' South,
whose been on death row for several decades, following his involvement in
the unintentional murder of a Jewish family. Cayhall has a month to live,
and, just as even he has given up on any hope of a successful appeal, the
old man gets a visit from his grandson lawyer, Adam Hall (Competently played
by Chris O'Donnell). Adam is determined to get his grandfather off the row
(Much to Sam's annoyance), and sets about digging up his family's past in
the hope of discovering the truth surrounding the crime that Sam
The truly great thing about "The Chamber" (And perhaps something which John
Grisham, its author, deserves the credit for) is that right from the opening
scenes, we are never unsure about Sam's guilt. He's as guilty as sin. This
is unlike Tim Robbin's "Dead Man Walking," (A film which many critics claim
is superior and are forever comparing "The Chamber" to), where the audience
is almost wrongfully 'Conned' into believing its protagonist's innocence,
presumably in the hope of us sympthasing with him all the more. But, with
"The Chamber," although Sam Cayhall is a spiteful, hateful and guilty
sinner, we sympathise with him because we sympathise with O'Donnells
all-too-true belief that he still doesn't deserve to die. After all, how can
someone whose been brought up and raised in such a dreadfully racist and
hateful environment turn out to be any better than Sam?
The film is an important character study, as much as what it is a study of
such afore-mentioned important themes(s). It never shies away from dealing
with issues such as racism, making the 'Showdown' scene towards the end
between Cayhall and one of his sickening 'Admirers' to be all the more
The film has faults, sure. For instance, Faye Dunaway as Adam's alcoholic
Aunt struggles manically, and gives a much too dramatic and theatrical
performance for this film. Gene Hackman also has some trouble in a very
difficult role, although he's much more effective in the later scenes, where
he begins to realise his mistakes. Perhaps the film's biggest mistake is in
its failure to develop a proper character out of 'Rollie Wedge' (Robert
Prosky), the man who may or may not have been involved in the terrible
murder that Sam is now on death row for.
I rarely cry in movie, but I cry every time I watch "The Chamber;" not just
during the suitably hard-to-watch and claustrophobic closing scenes, but
also during the final sequences between Sam and his grandaughter. It's a
truly touching piece of film-making, and a very thought provoking and
intelligent one. If only a better director had been at the helm, and the odd
performance had been touched up a bit, this picture would have been an
This is not one of the more famous (author) John Grisham based-movies
and it's a bit talky for my normal tastes, but it was interesting. You
can thank Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman for two excellent acting
performances which helped make this so entertaining in spots.
O'Donnell plays young attorney "Adam Hall" (shades of Matt Damon's character in another Grisham movie, "The Rainmaker"). Meanwhile, it's no surprise that Hackman gives us another fascinating performance, this time as the attorney's brutally racist grandfather, "Sam Cayhall." He's been imprisoned for a murder and O'Donnell is trying to release him from a death sentence. Hackman's performance elevates from a "fair" to a "good" movie. While O'Donnell is trying to do his job, a few revelations occur considering his Klansman grandpa. Faye Dunaway also is in here and has a memorable scene with "Sam."
Yes, the critics were right in that this could have been better but they were off base blasting this film. It's still an entertaining film, and they forget the value of that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For me, this is the best role of Hackman's career, and one of Oscar's
most overlooked roles. His character was as revolting, cold, and
repugnantly racist as a human being could be, but Hackman played Sam
Cayhall as a person with a surprising depth and emotion that, although
you couldn't exactly like him, you find yourself quietly hoping his
death penalty will be overturned as he plumbs the depths of his evil
deeds and confronts his past.
The scene when Fay Dunaway's Lee Cayhall Bowen comes to see Sam in the hours before his execution is as good as it gets. Lee asks if Sam would have killed Joe Lincoln when she was young had she spoken up, Sam tells her yes. You KNOW, you SEE, that he wouldn't have, but in seeing the toll that the guilt of a lifetime of believing it was her fault had exacted from his daughter, Sam lied. Sam redeemed her sanity in that lie, gave her life the peace she never had and, in many ways, redeemed himself.
Although Dunaway is only 11 years younger than Hackman, she handily pulls off the role of Cayhall's emotional, conflicted and alcoholic daughter Lee. She has spent her life hiding from whom she is, both from the community and herself, the crimes of her father, and the stigma it has brought.
Chris O'Donnell is just as good as Sam's grandson, Adam Hall, who is now a lawyer. Hall's father had changed the family surname to also escape the stigma of being the son of the murdering Klansman Cayhall. Apparently by design, Hall works for the firm who handles his grandfather's case, although he keeps his grandfather's identity a secret until he requests to take on the final death penalty appeal. Along the way, Hall learns the unpleasant reality of who he is, the bitter hate and ugliness bred into his grandfather, and insight into the truth of why his father had committed suicide when Hall was a young boy.
This film, although unpleasant in theme, is full of stellar performances and by far the most nuanced and conflicted character Gene Hackman has ever played. If you haven't seen The Chamber, get it, it's worth the watch.
Idealistic attorney Chris O'Donnell (as Adam Hall) goes down to
Mississippi, to take on the "death row clemency case of his onetime
Klansman grandfather" Gene Hackman (as Sam Cayhall). "With just 28 days
before the execution, Adam sets out to retrace the events leading to
the crime for which Sam was convicted. As the impending death sentence
looms closer, Adam works quickly to uncover the family's history for
any hidden clues. In a white-knuckle series of twists and turns, Adam
discovers deceptions and dark secrets that ultimately lead him to the
startling truth," according to the DVD sleeve's synopsis.
"White-knuckled"? Indeed not. "The Chamber" (as in gas chamber) starts off very well; and, Mr. Hackman's portrayal of the yellow-teethed racist is worth a look. Faye Dunaway (as Lee Cayhall Bowman) has a showy supporting role. All in all, the film's personnel portends a much better story than the one which appears on screen. Building up a romance between blue-eyed Mr. O'Donnell and brown-skinned Lela Rochon (as Nora Stark) seems like such an obvious way to improve the story (whether or not it was done in the John Grisham novel), you've got to wonder how on Earth they missed the obvious.
***** The Chamber (10/11/96) James Foley ~ Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway
First, I should admit that I've never read any of John Grisham's
novels. I've seen many of the film adaptations (which usually seem to
be worthy, if absolutely nothing else). It seems like most critics -
and much of the public - considered "The Chamber" the worst adaptation
of a Grisham novel ever. When I saw the movie, I didn't find it
terrible, though not a great movie either. Maybe it was just that many
people - myself not included - counted "A Time to Kill" as one of the
best adaptations, and dismissed this one.
Anyway, Gene Hackman makes a pretty ugly Klansman (well duh, he gets into any character), and I'd say that he overshadows Chris O'Donnell (who just looks a little out of place in this sort of movie). I can't tell whether or not Faye Dunaway is just there for show. But overall, what I like about this movie is that it doesn't lionize Hackman's character, but it shows why he became a Klansman - sort of like what "Dead Man Walking" does with Sean Penn's character. Obviously, "The Chamber" isn't in the same league as that one. But still, I think that most people need to reassess this movie. Also starring Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, Bo Jackson and Lela Rochon.
I just finished watching this after I just finished hearing about it.
I'll say it's not great, but its definitely worth the time to watch.
You have a very dramatic story of a murdering bigot's grandson (who's a lawyer) trying to save his grandfather (Gene Hackman) from his execution in 28 days. Just from their you know the plot is going to thicken.
When I saw this movie had Gene Hackman and Faye Dunaway I said "great I love those actors". It's also got Chris O'Donnell, OK not a bad actor (but does he remind anyone else of Matthew Perry?), and it's even got Bo Jackson.
I was surprised by a few things. One was that, Bo Jackson, despite not having many lines, was quite good at acting. Another less pleasant was that, as much as I love her, Faye Dunaway did not do an overly impressive performance. Watch her in "Bonnie and Clyde" and then compare her to THIS role... you're not even on the same chart. Playing a rich Southern Bell is maybe more difficult for her, but she did have a few good scene's playing a drunk. One thing that didn't surprise me was Gene Hackman. Mr. Hackman is undoubtedly a great actor, is this movie he made no exception. He definitely needs to give thanks to his make up crew, but he certainly delivered the punches. The emotions he showed seemed so powerful, like he's really ready to join in a lynching. But he's also prepared, not ready, but prepared to forgive.
Really i think that the only problem with this movies was the scenes without Gene Hackman. The rest of the scenes made everything seem more like a "Made for TV movie". The chemistry between Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell) and Nora Stark (Lela Rochon) was played off of more when they WEREN'T together. With better acting this could have been a much better film. But still it was not bad.
Kudos to John Grisham for the novel, It's a good idea, it wasn't played out as well as it could have... But still, it's still worth while watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A few years ago, I read the novel "The Chamber" by John Grisham and I
thought it was a spectacular reading experience. Then, in 1996, they
released it in the theatres and I was hoping that the outcome would
turn out on a positive note, just like the novel. Also I was hoping
that very talented performers like Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman and
Faye Dunaway would grace the screen like they've done before. However,
the high expectations were sadly shattered.
Nothing exciting happens as opposed to what's in the book, there's very little happening here, the acting is very wooden and the actors were woefully miscast. On a positive note, some stuff from the novel were brought into the movie. So for those who never read the novel or seen the movie, I won't give too much away. But those who expected an equally riveting novel to movie adaptation, you will be disappointed.
One thing that upset me most here is the different characteristics between Adam Hall in the novel and Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell) in the movie. In the novel, Hall is a typical attorney who's a bit green and does not know what to expect. In the movie, he's made like a big-shot who can get by in this case like a piece of cake.
Okay, I understand we can't cram everything from the novel, because then it would take too long, and we're not all patient for a three hour movie; so I respect that. I think the movie had it's mind on cutting to the chase rather than unravelling the events that led to the scenes. In the end it's just better that you all should just read the book and forget about the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a wholly unremarkable, but also inoffensive, adaptation of a John Grisham novel that serves only to make me believe I haven't really missed a lot by never reading any of the good Mr. Grisham's work. The plot follows a familiar template for the legal thriller: the dynamic young lawyer taking on a lost cause (for whatever reason), the unsympathetic villain languishing on death row, the increasingly desperate legal measures taken by the lawyer to win the day, the behind-the-scenes political intrigues that assure as many obstacles as possible are put in the lawyer's way. Usually, the prisoner receives a last minute reprieve, but not in this case; here we join racist redneck Gene Hackman in his last few moments as he is strapped into the eponymous chamber and struggles to hold his breath while the poisonous gas swirls invisibly around him. Foam issues from his mouth as the gas takes effect, and you wonder why you had to see that. The only reason I can think of is because the film was made one year after Dead Man Walking.
Gene Hackman is as good as you'd expect him to be; he must be one if not the greatest actors of his generation, and he makes young Chris O'Donnell look wholly insipid. To be fair to O'Donnell, there isn't that much in his character to grab hold of the only characteristic he has is the desire to see his grandpappy saved from the chamber. And when the poor lad isn't being acted off the screen by Hackman he has to contend with Faye Dunaway giving one of the better performances of her later career as Hackman's alcoholic daughter, who is haunted by the mistaken belief that she may have prevented a murder she witnessed as a child had she not chosen to remain silent at the fateful moment.
The Chamber isn't a classic by any measure, but it's probably better than its rating on this site might lead you to believe, although judging by some of the comments you might enjoy it more if you haven't read the book on which it is based.
A movie that you expect to be a courtroom drama actually turns out to
be the story of a family and its past, as young lawyer Adam Hall (Chris
O'Donnell) finds himself digging through several generations of family
skeletons after he takes on the case of his grandfather Sam Cayhall
(Gene Hackman), a racist scumbag found guilty years before of a
Mississippi bombing that killed two Jewish children and now set to die
in the gas chamber in less than a month unless Adam can find some way
of commuting the death sentence.
The clear highlight of the movie is Hackman's performance. He was believable in a movie in which he's definitely cast against type. He becomes the epitome of the racist scumbag he's portraying, and yet the character's nature is also softened by the writers, who introduce uncertainties about Cayhall's level of involvement in the bombing and who raise the possibility that he may be feeling remorse for what happened. Cayhall in the end even does something somewhat noble. His daughter (played by Faye Dunaway) - who witnessed him murder a black man in an incident years before - has been haunted with guilt, believing that if she had let him know that she was present, he would never have killed the man in front of her eyes. She feels guilty, believing that she's responsible for the man's death and finally asks her father as she visits before his execution whether he would have killed the man if he had known she was there. He says he would have. It sounds like a harsh and cold statement coming from Cayhall, and yet he's really telling her that it wasn't her fault and she shouldn't feel guilty over what happened. I found that simple scene very moving - mainly because it seemed to be a lie. His body language seemed to suggest that he wouldn't have killed the man with his daughter watching, but he wanted to take away her feelings of guilt.
Perhaps, though, that also serves as the great weakness here - to me at least. Cayhall was a bad guy, but there seemed to be attempts to excuse him - especially with the repeated refrain that he had no choice but to become a hateful bigot. His father had been one, his father's father, and his father as well. How could Cayhall have turned out differently after three generations of hate? The obvious response (which was strangely never voiced) is that Cayhall's son (Adam's father, who had ultimately committed suicide, apparently out of shame from the family's past) turned out differently in spite of the four generations of hatred in the family before him. The whole idea that Cayhall was destined to be a racist because of his upbringing grated on me because of that. Still, Hackman's performance was great, and Cayhall was an interesting character.
Chris O'Donnell was overshadowed by Hackman in this. He was all right as Adam, but perhaps lacked a bit of spark that might have brought more life to the movie. The writers made a good decision in not developing a romance between Adam and Nora (Lela Rochon.) An inter-racial romance between the racist's grandson and lawyer and the governor's aide might have been an obvious direction to take, but it frankly would have been too obvious. The end result, though, was that Nora was a minor character. Her place in the story seemed ill-defined to me. There's a hint of some deep, dark secrets from the past that could come back to haunt some of Mississippi's political elite, but that never gets developed.
Many criticize this because it apparently strays quite liberally from the John Grisham novel on which it's based (which I've never read I admit.) Well, this is a movie. Movies and books are different. You can't just take a novel and make it fit the screen, so adaptations don't bother me as long as the end result on film is good. This was a good movie, and I appreciated the fact that while Cayhall's character was softened over the course of it, there was no real redemption for the character. He played his part in the children's deaths, and he paid the price for it. Overall, this is pretty good.
Just like the book, this movie is amazing. The story is unique in the sense that it is very personal. A boy's grandfather is to be executed for murdering two small children, and as he investigates the crime further, he discovers more terrifying secrets about his grandfather and his past. He knows little about his roots because his father commited suicide when he was a kid, and this may be the only chance he has at discovering who he is, however unpleasant it may be. Chris Odonnel is great in this and Gene Hackman shines. I give this **** out of **** stars.
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