THE STAR CHAMBER
Review by Gordon Justesen
Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook, Yaphett Kotto, Sharon Gless
Director: Peter Hyams
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Stereo, Spanish Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2005
has taken justice and hidden it in the law."
Here's a legal
thriller with a certain twist, and a premise so unnerving that had John Grisham
been writing novels in and around 1983, he'd probably conceive a story just
like it. The Star Chamber is extremely
well crafted thriller about how difficulties within the law push those who
represent it to the breaking point. The film is an early gem in the career of
atmospheric director Peter Hyams (2010,
The movie begins by
establishing a number of instances where various criminals are arrested for
crimes clearly committed, only to have the system set them free due to
unexpected minor technicalities. The opening of the movie has a hood being
pursued, on foot, by two cops on a stakeout. The cops find a gun in the perp's
trash, after it is placed in the garbage truck passing through, ensuring a
proper search warrant and a clean bust.
looks promising, but the defense presents some defeating elements that cause the
charge to be thrown out. Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) doesn't want to
set the man free, but the vicious cycle known as the criminal justice system
won’t allow otherwise. It's a long established fact of his profession that
Hardin hates to observe.
Another case comes
along that will challenge Hardin's belief in the system. The body of a six
year old boy is found mutilated in a park. Later that same evening, two lowlives
driving a van are stopped by cops, who then discover a blood-covered child's
tennis shoe in the back of the vehicle.
over the case. The father of the murdered boy confronts him, urging him to
provide the appropriate sentencing. The evidence pointed against the men seem
worthy of conviction, but once again, the case is thrown out in favor of the
defense on a minor technicality.
Judge Hardin is
understandably infuriated by the result, which leads him to making quite an
astounding discovery. His long time mentor, Judge Benjamin Caulfield (Hal
Holbrook), is also very fed up of criminals being let go by the system. He then
introduces Hardin to a secret group of judges known as the star chamber, where
an open seat is available for him.
They meet behind
close doors, at night, and essentially retry cases involving high profile
criminals. If a unanimous guilty vote is given amongst the judges, an assassin
is then dispatched to execute the select convict, or execute justice, as the
chamber sees it. Hardin hesitates at first about getting involved, but once he
learns the father of the murdered boy has committed suicide, he wastes no time
in throwing in his guilty verdict.
Meanwhile, the cop
investigating the boy’s murder, Det. Lowes (Yaphet Kotto), gathers information
leading to the trail of an entirely group of suspects. Once Hardin receives word
that the real killers have been nabbed, he urges Caulfield and the chamber to
call the hit off. Finding that they won’t back down, Hardin intends to
confront the targets themselves, even if it means exposing the wrong doings of
Although the third
act switches gears and becomes a chase thriller, The Star Chamber is an all around effective thriller, with a
terrific set up and a more than satisfying conclusion. In one of his earliest
roles, Michael Douglas makes a convincing everyman caught in a complex web.
The movie really
gets its strength from the stylish directing of Peter Hyams, who specializes in
genres such as action, sci-fi and suspense. Hyams, who eventually worked as both
director and cinematographer on many of his films down the road, has a visual
eye that was made for cinema, in particularly that of panoramic widescreen. His
use of natural lighting in both day and night shots has become a trademark of
his, one that has been criticized by some, but admired by me.
My verdict on The
Star Chamber is that of an air-tight thriller with stellar performances, a
terrifically developed plot, and outstanding directing on the part of Mr. Hyams.
Though the movie has some age to it, it's more than resonant to the current
times involving the justice system.
presentation (full screen version also included), courtesy of Fox, is a most
exceptional offering given the more than twenty year age the movie has to it. I
mentioned earlier of director Peter Hyams' visual style, and it is displayed
most wonderfully on this disc. Given Hyams' knack for low lighting, it would
probably do you better to watch this with the lights turned off, if you can be
willing to watch it in such a way. Overall, the picture is crisp enough; give an
instance or two of noticeable grain, and a more than pleasant video handling.
I was more than
surprised to see that Fox had applied a 5.1 mix to this movie. Most films from
the 80s are lucky to be even offered in 2.0 Dolby surround. So Fox deserves a
load of congrats for applying the best format around. As a result, the movie
sounds quite fantastic. Dialogue is delivered in high-level clarity, numerous
chase scenes pay off extremely well, and the surround sound factor does present
itself quite a bit in this surprisingly grand presentation.
Included on the
disc is a trailer and teaser trailer for the movie.