October 11, 1996 in Seven

A Better ‘Chamber’ Hackman, O’Donnell, Dunaway Improve On Grisham’s Story

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press
 

Just when we thought we’d been Grisham-ed out, the movie of “The Chamber” convinces us we need more.

The easiest of his books to put down, John Grisham’s “The Chamber” doesn’t have the narrative momentum or mystery of “The Firm” (it’s more in the vein of “A Time to Kill,” which also is about racism and degrees of guilt). In the transfer to the screen, “The Chamber” has been given new dimensions that make it more thoughtful and involving.

As always in these Grisham movies, the cast is A-list. Chris O’Donnell plays a Chicago lawyer determined to get his Mississippi grandfather, Sam (the excellent Gene Hackman), off death row. Grandpappy, a Klansman, was convicted of dropping a deadly bomb in a civil-rights lawyer’s office, but O’Donnell thinks there’s more to the story. The third major character is Sam’s country-clubbing daughter (Faye Dunaway), who likes to forget that she has a father.

O’Donnell acts with conviction and he holds his own in scenes with Hackman’s crusty Sam, but he’s too young. O’Donnell may be 25, but he looks much younger than that, and his character is supposed to be in his 30s. He may technically be old enough to argue a death row case, but he looks like he should be in high school, debating “Resolved: Beavis’ critical thinking is superior to Butthead’s.”

The age thing gets even weirder when you remember that Hackman and Dunaway played contemporaries in “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Depending on how accurately you think Dunaway reports her age, Hackman has about five years on her, which makes his being her father physically impossible.

Get over it. Director James Foley brings a keen intelligence to “The Chamber.”

The characters in the movie are complex, a marked contrast to the cartoon-like folks in “A Time to Kill,” in which every actor was allowed to play only one characteristic.

The idea that even a KKK member could love his family, for instance, is something “A Time to Kill” couldn’t countenance, and the fact that “The Chamber” can, makes it immeasurably better.

There are powerful, truthful scenes in which we realize that lots of people blame themselves for the bombing. One of these people, the guilt-ridden wife of the victim, says, “(Sam) has to die because the story needs an ending.”

That statement is a subtle indictment of killing in the name of justice, but there’s no heavy-handed message about capital punishment in “The Chamber.”

Instead, the focus stays on the people, struggling to figure out what really happened and learning that the truth will set them free.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘The Chamber” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by James Foley, starring Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Lela Rochon, Raymond Barry and David Marshall Grant Running time: 1:50 minutes Rating: R

This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘The Chamber” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by James Foley, starring Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Lela Rochon, Raymond Barry and David Marshall Grant Running time: 1:50 minutes Rating: R


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