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The Chamber
Starring Gene Hackman, Chris O'Donnell, Lela Rochon, and Faye Dunaway
Directed by James Foley

The second adaptation of a John Grisham novel to come out of Hollywood's starting gate this year is The Chamber, a work so far superior to the previous A Time To Kill that it will probably bomb at the box office, just because I liked it.

We begin at the beginning, with a KKK bombing back in the late 1960s. Two plus decades later, young and spunky lawyer Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell) implores his boss to let him take on the case said boss was fired from. The case involves the racist killer in the aforementioned bombing, who is set to die in a Mississippi gas chamber in a month's time.

Hall's motivation is twofold. He is adamantly against the death penalty, and the killer, Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman) is his grandfather, a man he's never known. Also tossed into the mix is Cahall's aunt Lee (Faye Dunaway), who has successfully buried her white trash upbringing beneath a sexually open marriage to a banker, and drowned herself in the sweet embrace of Johnny Walker Black.

Adam doesn't introduce himself to Sam as the grandson he has never known, but Sam recognizes him immediately. There ain't no blubbery reunion, folks. Cayhall is vile, racist, unrepentant, and one of the nastiest guys you could ever meet. Hackman's portrayal is dead on the money.

The Chamber is not so much about a clever lawyer saving a nasty man from an even nastier fate, as you would think. Under the adaptive pen of William Goldman -- one of the best screenwriters ever, IMO -- it is more a story of the Hall family, of the discovery of roots, of repentance, disclosure, and salving emotional wounds.

As Sam works to save Grandpa he is, he thinks, aided by the governor's assistant (Lela Rochon), and his every move is watched by the political and press machines, as well as mystery men connected to the Klan itself. Whereas in A Time to Kill story points just "happened" out of nowhere, in The Chamber the story builds upon itself. For, though there is never any doubt about whether Hackman's character did the bombing, there is enough doubt about who (if anyone) conspired with him to keep it all interesting.

The story of the history of the (Cay)Hall clan is clear cut. The subplots play out in shades of gray as to the motives of the supporting characters -- the politicians and the Klansmen both have much to gain or lose if the truth comes out. The main flaw in the piece is that a lot of these connections are only hinted at as you reach the conclusion of the flick. You don't really get to see how it all plays out. I'm being obtuse, because to say more gives away the ending. Which is not what you expect it to be. Unless it is.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Chamber, he would have paid . . .


Adam's infiltration of a Klan rally and some of the FBI involvements are a bit clunky. For the most part, though, this is worth the theater ticket.

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