The Austin Chronicle

The Chamber

Rated R, 113 min. Directed by James Foley. Starring Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Lela Rochon, Robert Prosky, Raymond Barry, Bo Jackson.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Oct. 11, 1996

Based on John Grisham's 1994 bestseller, The Chamber comes to us hot on the heels of another Grisham adaptation, this year's smash hit A Time To Kill, and the similarities between the two films are inescapable. That said, the movies are surprisingly different in both tone and structure, with The Chamber trading in A Time To Kill's emotional grandstanding and unnervingly pat “Can't we all just get along?” conclusion for less clear-cut moral distinctions and a somber, doom-laden atmosphere. Chris O'Donnell stars as Adam Hall, a novice lawyer attempting to save from the titular gas chamber the grandfather he never knew (Gene Hackman) -- a former Klansman imprisoned for his participation in a bombing that claimed the lives of two young children -- while at the same time discovering a few unexpected truths about himself, not to mention some facts that suggest that his client may, or may not, be quite as guilty as he seems. It's typical Grisham stuff: full of photogenic young lawyers, clumsy racial politics, loads of legal double-talk, convoluted plot twists, and long-winded courtroom speeches. However, the direction by James Foley (Glenngary Glen Ross, At Close Range) is assured, Ian Baker's wide-screen photography is handsome, Carter Burwell's score is appropriately melancholy, and the script, by screenwriting legend William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and newcomer Chris Reese, keeps this somewhat rickety, melodramatic story moving forward like clockwork. True enough, the rest of this overlong picture never lives up to the promise of its first 30 minutes (the first five of which include a great, expertly timed jolt) and the performances, while always sincere, seem a bit overdone (with the exception of supporting players Robert Prosky and Raymond Barry, who nail their roles as Adam Hall's mentor and antagonist, respectively), yet The Chamber is an adequate, inoffensive thriller that, every so often, shows itself to be a little smarter than it needs to be… even if it isn't often enough to make this thriller anything more than average.

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