Stars: Gene Hackman, Chris O'Donnell, Faye Dunaway, Robert Prosky. Written by William Goldman and Chris Reese. Directed by James Foley. Rated R for violence, profanity, adult themes.

Young attorney Adam Hall (Chris O'Donnell) insists on representing his grandfather, Sam Cayhall (Gene Hackman), during the old man's last series of appeals while on death row. Sam was convicted decades earlier of the murder of two small children which happened as the result of a racially-motivated bombing of a building. Although he is uncooperative at first, Sam eventually agrees to aid in his own defense. The problem is that he is undeniably guilty. This leaves Adam with just a few lines of attack. These include the supposed presence of an accomplice, Sam's lack of knowledge about bomb-making and, most importantly, the racial prejudices that Sam was raised with. If any of these avenues proves fruitful, the governor of the southern state in which Sam is incarcerated will grant him a pardon.

"The Chamber" is yet another film based on a book by best-selling author John Grisham. Gene Hackman's performance as the doomed convict is complex and memorable but, alas, the film is not. Director James Foley doesn't cave in and attach the typical Hollywood ending to the film, but what he does is worse: he makes sure that the individual scenes leading up to the climax are pat so that the ending itself will come as a surprise. This ploy will fool a few people into thinking the film is deep. Most, though, will see right through it.

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