Peter Hyams criminally underrated thriller deserves to be seen
Going into this one, I literally had never heard of it or even knew of it's existence until I did a quick IMDB search of Hyams' filmography. Doing some further digging I found the old VHS cover, which quite honestly is a total misrepresentation of the film as a whole. So maybe I did see that cover back in the 80's at my local video store, but I can guarantee you that I would never have given it a second thought, because the lame cover art, and the slightly misleading title (it sounds like a sci-fi film) lead you to believe it's something else entirely. And really, that is the one and only complaint I have about this film, because quite frankly, it's pretty fucking fantastic. Let's dig in.
Peter Hyams has undoubtedly crafted a splendid thriller that delivers some of his best work behind the camera, while also giving us, the viewer, ample amounts of thrills, tension and suspense all wrapped up in a neat little package that is as visually stunning as it is thrilling. Much like his work in some of my favorite films from his filmography, Hyams impressed me nearly at every turn with his stunning visuals and impressive use of light and shadows, something of a trademark when it comes to his thrillers. Narrow Margin is another excellent example of this. Surprisingly, he wasn't his own cinematographer yet. That wouldn't happen until his following film, 2010: The Year We Make Contact in 1984.
Michael Douglas always has and continues to remain one of my favorite actors working. It wasn't until Ridley Scott's Black Rain in 1989 that I really learned to truly appreciate his work, but it was from that moment on that I was pretty much keen to anything he did. As I watched this, where he once again delivers another solid powerhouse performance as a man struggling with his frustrations at the justice system he works for, while also grappling with his own personal morals, he exudes an intensity that you rarely see in actors these days. He really was and still is one of the best, who could pull of a cool charming adventurer in Romancing the Stone, or a total badass with a badge and an attitude in Black Rain. I would argue that this performance here ranks as one of his best, but I shouldn't have to, because it's fact. We already know this, right??
The Star Chamber (please try to overlook that title), is arguably one of the best thrillers to come out of the 80's, and one of the best in Hyam's filmography. Sadly overlooked and long forgotten, it's a film that hits all the right notes and delivers a totally fulfilling experience within the thriller genre. Visually compelling as is the subject matter, with riveting performances by Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook and a host of notable character and veteran actors, it's a film that's begging to be discovered for the very first time. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out, you'll be glad you did.
How to see it:
Currently DVD is the only real route to see this in widescreen. Though Amazon lists a Blu-Ray for the cheap price of $100, I've never actually seen one. I do hope it gets a better release someday. It's such a visually impressive film, and an HD upgrade would be ace.
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