Reviewed by: Brett Willis
This film is a roller-coaster ride. If you take it seriously and are not already firm in your beliefs, you’ll be swayed first in one direction and then another.
The namesake of the film was a British court that in the 17th century began to meet in secret and to pass severe sentences against the enemies of the King. The term “Star Chamber” now refers to any secret court.
The film opens with the arrest of a man who murdered old ladies for their Social Security checks. Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is forced to release him on a technicality. Later, the same thing happens with two men who appear to be child murderers. Hardin discusses his problems with an older judge (Hal Holbrook), who acknowledges that the same thing happens in his court, but slowly intimates to Hardin that there’s a way to do something about it. Holbrook’s role here is reminiscent of his character in “Dirty Harry: Magnum Force”—an apparently straight-laced official who is actually a closet vigilante.
Note the R rating. The film contains a lot of profanity, a number of graphic on-screen killings and some really disgusting characters. No sexual material, except for the information that a child pornography ring was using young boys in snuff films and then dumping the bodies.
The plot deliberately pushes viewers into a pro-vigilante mode by giving excruciating examples of criminals escaping justice because of over-liberal rules of evidence; then, it slams on the brakes by showing that the cure might be worse than the disease. If you’re a mature adult who can hold this story at arm’s length, great. But that’s not the way the film is designed; its purpose is to get you emotionally involved and thereby program your thinking on this subject. So, proceed with caution.
Year of Release—1983