The Star Chamber (1983) starring Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook, Yaphet Kotto, Sharon Gless, James Sikking, Joe Regalbuto directed by Peter Hyams Movie Review

The Star Chamber (1983)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Michael Douglas in The Star Chamber (1983)

A Justice League

Michael Douglas is one of those actors whose star is so big that even if you are not a fan you are usually aware of the movies he's starred in. So when you come across one which you have never heard of before you begin to question what is wrong with it especially when you hear that it bombed on release. For me "The Star Chamber" is one such movie as to I had never heard of it or had no idea what it was about before stumbling across it on late night TV, the general home of those movies which have problems. Surprisingly "The Star Chamber" is in fact a good movie, an intelligent thriller which makes one mistake of trading intelligence for action towards the end.

Superior Court Judge Steven R. Hardin (Michael Douglas - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) finds himself continually frustrated by his job as smart defence lawyers find ways to continuously get admitted criminals off on technicalities and he can't do a damn thing about it despite knowing that these men are guilty. That is when his mentor and fellow judge Benjamin Caulfield (Hal Holbrook - Capricorn One) introduces him to a secret sect of 9 judges who like him have tired off having to let bad guys go on technicalities and take matters in to their own hands by passing secret judgements and arranging for bad guys to be executed. But it weighs heavy on Hardin's mind what these judges are doing.

Hal Holbrook in The Star Chamber (1983)

The first half of "The Star Chamber" is fascinating and gets you gripped by the situation it presents. That situation is Judge Hardin feeling conflicted by clever defence lawyers finding ways to get admitted criminals set free by having crucial evidence made inadmissible. It is interesting to see how technicalities such as when garbage is searched can cause a case to be thrown out but it is also interesting to watch how Hardin is affected by having to let bad guys go, how he feels like he can't do the job he set out to do because the defence lawyers are too clever and play the system and so is letting down the innocent and the victims.

This then evolves after around 30 minutes as Caulfield lets him in on the secret club of judges who have grown tired of the way the law is twisted hold secret courts. Basically we have vigilante judges becoming judge, jury and executioners dishing out the law without smart defence lawyers playing the system. And again all of this is how Hardin is affected by being part of this system of judges who think they are doing their jobs but are no different to the criminals who break the law especially when something happens which makes him doubt one of the sentences the secret court dishes out.

All of this is good, it gets you thinking over the concept of vigilante justice and whether it is right or wrong. The only trouble is as after this fascinating look at the justice system both in court and the secret one and how Hardin deals with it, it for some reason feels a need to evolve into an action movie. It is basically a cop out which spoils what could have been more than just an average thriller.

What this all boils down to is that "The Star Chamber" is well worth a watch because of its interesting look at the legal system and the vigilante system but sadly it is not a great movie as it is spoiled by an action ending.