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Deborah Kara Unger
"Shadow of Fear" draws upon the elements of suspense from the famous genre of film noir. It also shares similarities to films from earlier decades in "The Brotherhood of the Bell" (1970) and "The Star Chamber" (1983). All three films focus on a secret male society that goes outside the law to protect the interests and advance the agendas of its members. I admired director Rich Cowan's camera angles and stylish cinematography in "Shadow of Fear." There was also good suspense sustained in the mysteries activities of the secret club.
At the heart of the action is the character of Harrison French, admirably played by Matthew Davis. Harrison is caught in a web of intrigue after an unfortunate incident of manslaughter while driving in a blinding rain. He is subsequently manipulated by the ringleader of the secret brotherhood, performed with great relish by James Spader. The cast is rounded out with veteran actors Peter Coyote and Aidan Quinn, along with good support from Robin Tunney, Alice Krige, and Lacey Chabert.
Beyond the effective and suspenseful plot, I was especially intrigued by the consistently morose and clinically depressed cast of characters. Despite the great affluence portrayed in the film, the main characters all suffered from guilt for their past conduct and by the obsession of keeping their skeletons in the closet, through assistance of Spader's oily attorney, William Ashbury. It is especially revealing when throughout the film, the protagonist Harrison is chomping on prescription antidepressant medication in order to cope with even the slightest setback.
In "The Brotherhood of the Bell" and "The Star Chamber," the secret society went outside the lines of society's ethics in the pursuit of such concepts as "truth" and "justice." By contrast, in "Shadow of Fear," there were no redeeming ideals as the members of the society sought only to cover up one another's past transgressions. Literally, no one seemed happy in this film. Not even the powerful attorney Ashbury could remedy their sorry state of depression.
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