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The Chamber Review

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Belligerent old White Supremacist Sam Cayhall's (Hackman) 20 year stint on the Row is about to come to a close care of old chokey, but, not before his grandson, greenhorn lawyer Adam Hall (O'Donnell), attempts to get gramps a break.

★★★★★

Foley's version of the prolific Grisham's Death Row riff, is the first of the book-to-film conversions to arrive marked "stiffed in the USA". Reasons are readily apparent. This is a lethargic, frequently wooden movie of the least filmmable of all of Grisham's hits (long on character, short on plot). And when you scupper most of the characterisation all the teeth-gritting worthiness comes over very stretched. The only reason to endure the tawdry pomposity is another sterling turn from America's finest, Gene Hackman.

Foley's - to a lesser extent also Grisham's - primary sin is to lack focus. Although this is Dead Man Walking territory - belligerent old White Supremacist Sam Cayhall's (Hackman) 20 year stint on the Row is about to come to a close care of old chokey, but, not before his grandson, greenhorn lawyer Adam Hall (O'Donnell), attempts to get gramps a break - it never decides what it wants to be about. Is it the touching family drama, in the mellowing of sour heart Hackman via the love of the only relly who can bear him? Or a telling examination of the inbred bigotry in the Deep South (Hackman had bombed a Jewish lawyer, killing his twin sons)? Or how about a musing on the apparent barbarism of capital punishment? Answer: all of them. Result: a cursory nod to anything interesting and a great deal of O'Donnell's dewy-eyed, cod angst.

Yes, Hackman spits out his racist epithets and suffers his transition to nice-old-bloke-after-all with typical force and Foley does an atmospheric Mississippian sweep with style. But elsewhere it's baggy old nonsense. O'Donnell cannot handle the requirements his first really meaty role requires of him (how Ed Norton would have triumphed), and Faye Dunaway just embarrasses herself as Hackman's dozy old southern soak of a daughter. And as it gets all worked up for the "dramatic" finale, it is evident the Grisham/Hollywood love affair may have just woken up the morning after. No fun at all.

Because it lacks focus, this film gives a cursory nod to anything of interest, but doesn't engage with any issue pertaining to its subject.

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