The Chamber (1996)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Based on a novel by John Grisham, this drama deals with a man trying to come to terms with his family and their ugly secrets. Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell) is a successful attorney based in Chicago who travels to Mississippi to look into the case of Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman). An outspoken racist and member of the Ku Klux Klan, Cayhall was convicted in the early '60s of the murder of a Jewish civil rights lawyer and his children. Pending a last-minute appeal, it looks as if Cayhall will finally go to the electric chair, and Adam has arrived to see what he can do. It hardly seems like the sort of case Adam would normally be involved with, until we discover Adam's secret: he is actually Cayhall's grandson, and despite his misgivings about the man's racist views, he wants to see if he can spare his life. Cayhall, however, has little use for Adam and even less regard for his legal skills. As Adam spends time with his Aunt Lee (Faye Dunaway), who witnessed Cayhall's execution of a black man years ago, he gets a more complete and disturbing picture of Cayhall's race hatred and the terrible toll it has taken on his family and the community. The Chamber marked the acting debut of former baseball and football star Bo Jackson.
R (adult situations/language, violence)
Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MCA Universal Home Video

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Gene Hackman
as Sam Cayhall
Chris O'Donnell
as Adam Hall
Faye Dunaway
as Lee Bowen
Lela Rochon
as Nora Stark
Millie Perkins
as Ruth Kramer
Robert Prosky
as E. Garner Goodman
Raymond J. Barry
as Rollie Wedge
Bo Jackson
as Sergeant Packer
David Marshall Grant
as Governor McAllister
Nicholas Pryor
as Judge Slattery
Harve Presnell
as Attorney General Roxburgh
Richard Bradford
as Wyn Lettner
Greg Goossen
as J.B. Gullitt
Seth Isler
as Marvin Kramer
Sid Johnson
as Josh Kramer
Blake Johnson
as John Kramer
Josef Sommer
as Phelps Bowen
Leonard Vincent
as Lucas Mann
Bonita Allen
as Ms. Cooley
Dick Stilwell
as George Nugent
Greg Wayne Elam
as Joe Lincoln
Zaquarii Walters
as Quince Lincoln
Jane Kaczmarek
as Dr. Anne Biddows
Jana Barraza
as Gate Attendant
Nick Brett
as Rally Skinhead
Curtis Epper
as Rally Skinhead
Craig Pinckes
as Rally Skinhead
Dan Beene
as Lead Sheriff
James Geralden
as Newscaster
Michelle Davison
as Professor Burns
Jack Conley
as White Guard
Stephanie Bell Flynt
as Newcaster on Air
Ruby Wilson
as Jessie
Joe Meek
as Senate Aide
Anthony Kopczynski
as Vistor's Room Guard
Ken Colquitt
as Vistor's Room Guard
Neil Barton
as Visitor's Room Guard
Jerry Gauny
as Inmate
Ed Siebert
as Inmate
Bob Rummler
as Inmate
Rod Phillips
as Inmate
Jeff Sanders
as Inmate
Clee Cottel
as Inmate
Ian Brady
as Deputy Executioner
Sam Bologna
as Deputy Executioner
Charles Swain
as Observation Cell Guard
Tony Scott Sherrom
as Governor's Aide
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Critic Reviews for The Chamber

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (8)

Lacking the surface glitz, attention-grabbing plot and star power of John Grisham's previous adaptations, Folley's film will also suffer due to comparisons with the similarly-themed and better Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking, released last year.

Full Review… | March 8, 2006
Top Critic

There isn't a whole lot to the movie.

December 31, 1999
USA Today
Top Critic

The story, about a young lawyer handling the last appeals of his grandfather, who is on death row, has enough little surprises and mysteries to stay interesting, and the stars milk it for all they’ve got.

June 15, 2007

Emotionally affecting drama that shows that healing is possible across the generations.

Full Review… | August 27, 2002
Spirituality and Practice

Ham-fisted preachifying pablum.

July 25, 2002

Often muddled and confusing, with dialogue that rings false as loudly as a church bell.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999

Audience Reviews for The Chamber

The problem with this movie (and Mr. Grisham's book) is that the plot doesn't quite add up. Why would Adam Hall want to save his racist bigot grandfather if he is against racism? Is it because he is more against the death penalty? And why, if Sam Cayhall was a Klansman and a racist, would the black prisoners farewell him like they do? There are too many racist ephithets and scenes that seem like they are glorifying the KKK, which is not presented as boring and stupid (although the Klansmen are presented as the bad guys). This film will leave a bad taste in your mouth. I'd skip it.

Juli Ryan
Juli Ryan

Super Reviewer


Nothing annoys me more than sitting through a film I consider to be very good, or perhaps even excellent, and then reading reviews about it afterwards that are wholly negative and often very untrue in their descriptions. "The Chamber," released in 1996, and based on John Grisham's novel from two years earlier, is one such movie. Having read both the book and having seen the film, I draw two conclusions. The first is that I believe the movie to be as good (Perhaps even better) than Grisham's novel. The second is that the movie is a great piece of film-making; one of the most mature, thoughtful and intelligent to have come out of Hollywood in the past few years, especially when one takes into account that it's dealing with some very complex themes and issues. Gene Hackman plays Sam Cayhall, the racist bigot from America's ole' South, whose been on death row for several decades, following his involvement in the unintentional murder of a Jewish family. Cayhall has a month to live, and, just as even he has given up on any hope of a successful appeal, the old man gets a visit from his grandson lawyer, Adam Hall (Competently played by Chris O'Donnell). Adam is determined to get his grandfather off the row (Much to Sam's annoyance), and sets about digging up his family's past in the hope of discovering the truth surrounding the crime that Sam committed. The truly great thing about "The Chamber" (And perhaps something which John Grisham, its author, deserves the credit for) is that right from the opening scenes, we are never unsure about Sam's guilt. He's as guilty as sin. This is unlike Tim Robbin's "Dead Man Walking," (A film which many critics claim is superior and are forever comparing "The Chamber" to), where the audience is almost wrongfully 'Conned' into believing its protagonist's innocence, presumably in the hope of us sympthasing with him all the more. But, with "The Chamber," although Sam Cayhall is a spiteful, hateful and guilty sinner, we sympathise with him because we sympathise with O'Donnells all-too-true belief that he still doesn't deserve to die. After all, how can someone whose been brought up and raised in such a dreadfully racist and hateful environment turn out to be any better than Sam? The film is an important character study, as much as what it is a study of such afore-mentioned important themes(s). It never shies away from dealing with issues such as racism, making the 'Showdown' scene towards the end between Cayhall and one of his sickening 'Admirers' to be all the more brilliant. The film has faults, sure. For instance, Faye Dunaway as Adam's alcoholic Aunt struggles manically, and gives a much too dramatic and theatrical performance for this film. Gene Hackman also has some trouble in a very difficult role, although he's much more effective in the later scenes, where he begins to realise his mistakes. Perhaps the film's biggest mistake is in its failure to develop a proper character out of 'Rollie Wedge' (Robert Prosky), the man who may or may not have been involved in the terrible murder that Sam is now on death row for. I rarely cry in movie, but I cry every time I watch "The Chamber;" not just during the suitably hard-to-watch and claustrophobic closing scenes, but also during the final sequences between Sam and his grandaughter. It's a truly touching piece of film-making, and a very thought provoking and intelligent one. If only a better director had been at the helm, and the odd performance had been touched up a bit, this picture would have been an instant classic.

Cassandra Maples
Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer


A hard-hitting and heart-racing edge of your seat thriller. Pulse-pounding and gut-wrenching. Gene Hackman gives one of his greatest performances ever

Al S
Al S

Super Reviewer

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