PETER HYAMS’ THE STAR CHAMBER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Peter Hyams made a career out of crafting extremely entertaining studio actioners, and one of my favorite efforts from this underrated helmer is the 1983 mystery crime thriller The Star Chamber, which stars Michael Douglas as a paranoid and pissed-off Judge who gets too close to a shady group who may or may not be responsible for a series of murders, with the kicker being that their targets are those who have abused the criminal system, escaping on technicalities in cases where it’s obvious that they’re guilty. Written by Hyams and Roderick Taylor (The Brave One) from Taylor’s original story, the film has fun playing games with the audience, while the plot is just over the top of enough without becoming totally absurd, allowing you to slip into “movie-land” for two hours and take a wild ride. It’s also interesting to note that The Star Chamber shares some thematic and stylistic elements that were explored in David Fincher’s criminally underrated 1997 film The Game (both films are visually obsessed with finding the appropriate shade of brown), with the main linkage between the two clearly being Douglas and his patented brand of stressed-out and volatile dramatics.

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The superb supporting cast includes an ominous and sketchy Hal Holbrook, Yaphet Koto, Sharon Gless, James B. SIkking, David Faustino, Joe Regalbuto, Don Calfa, Larry Hankin, and David Proval. Hyams, who typically served as his own director of photography, teamed up with cameraman Richard Hannah to achieve The Star Chamber’s shadowy and burnished widescreen visual style. Michael Small’s unnerving score added intensity and suspicion to nearly every scene. Some interesting questions of morality are thrown into this pulpy genre stew, while Hyams’ sure hand behind the camera made for an extremely entertaining concoction that finishes up on an intriguing note of possibility for all of the key players. This is a shifty and nifty little actioner that is worthy of rediscovery, especially by those who are fans of Hyams’ unpretentious and rather awesome filmography.

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