Have moviegoers simply overdosed on John Grisham’s lawyers-versus-racists courtroom dramas? That could explain the paltry box office of this fall-’96 release. Or maybe it’s that The Chamber doesn’t offer the showy melodramatics of such pulpy, overheated potboilers as A Time to Kill. Instead, this sad, serious film focuses on the conflict between a Klansman (Hackman), on death row for a bombing that killed two kids, and his lawyer grandson (O’Donnell), who’s trying to get the old man a stay of execution while exorcising family demons. On video, director James Foley’s probing close-ups are even more tightly cropped, further intensifying some unusually intimate lawyer-client debates. The social issues at stake in these exchanges make most Grisham adaptations seem silly by comparison.

The Chamber
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