The Chamber (film)

The Chamber

The Chamber movie poster
Directed by James Foley
Produced by John Davis
Brian Grazer
Ron Howard
Screenplay by William Goldman
Phil Alden Robinson (as "Chris Reese")
Based on The Chamber
by John Grisham
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Ian Baker
Edited by Mark Warner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • October 11, 1996 (1996-10-11)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $22,540,359

The Chamber is a 1996 crime thriller film based on John Grisham's novel of the same name. The film was directed by James Foley and stars Gene Hackman and Chris O'Donnell.


Mississippi State Penitentiary, the setting of the film

Having survived the hatred and bigotry that was his Klansman grandfather Sam Cayhall's (Hackman) only legacy, young attorney Adam Hall (O'Donnell) seeks to appeal the old man's death sentence for the murder of two Jewish children 30 years ago. Only 28 days before Cayhall is to be executed, Adam meets his grandfather for the first time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary which has held him since his conviction in 1980. The meeting is predictably tense when the educated, young Mr. "Hall" confronts his venom-spewing elder, Mr. "Cayhall" about the murders. The next day, headlines run proclaiming Adam the grandson who has come to the state to save his grandfather, the infamous Ku Klux Klan bomber.

While the old man's life lies in the balance, Adam's motivation in fighting this battle becomes clear as the story unfolds. He fights not only for his grandfather but also perhaps for himself. He has come to heal the wounds of his own father's suicide, to mitigate the secret shame he has always felt for having this man as a grandfather and to bring closure, one way or another, to the suffering the old man seems to have brought to everyone he has ever known. At the end, there is some redemption for the condemned man when he expresses remorse and realizes his wasted life of hate. It is revealed that there were others involved in the bombing, but he is the only one who is actually executed.


Production history

Ron Howard was originally set to direct the film, but left the project to direct Ransom (1996). He stayed on as a producer on the film. Brad Pitt was committed to playing Adam Hall, but left the project when Howard left to direct Ransom.

William Goldman, who wrote the early drafts, described the project as a "total wipeout disaster... a terrible experience" and never saw the finished movie.[1]

Filming locations

Scenes were filmed in the actual gas chamber at Parchman Penitentiary.[2] Other locations were filmed in Chicago, Jackson, Mississippi, Indianola, Mississippi, Greenwood, Mississippi, Parchman, Mississippi, and Los Angeles.


Critical reaction to The Chamber has been negative, with the film earning a rating of 12% on Rotten Tomatoes.[3]

Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, remarking: "In the early days of X-rated movies, they were always careful to include something of "redeeming social significance" to justify their erotic content. Watching The Chamber, I was reminded of that time. The attitudes about African Americans and Jews here represent the pornography of hate, and although the movie ends by punishing evil, I got the sinking feeling that, just as with the old sex films, by the time the ending came around, some members of the audience had already gotten what they bought their tickets for."[4] James Berardinelli also gave the film two stars out of four, saying: "Plot-wise, The Chamber is full of seeming irrelevancies. The movie should have been streamlined better; there's no need to try to include virtually every character from the book. [...] The Chamber [...] is mechanical and artificial, and tells you what to think."[5]

Grisham called the film a "disaster" and a "train wreck from the beginning". He added, "It could not have been handled worse by those involved, including me. I made a fundamental error when I sold the film rights before I finished writing the book. It was a dreadful movie. Gene Hackman was the only good thing in it."[6] Faye Dunaway's performance in the movie earned her a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress, but did not win the award.


  1. Goldman, William (2001) [2000]. Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade. Vintage. p. 125. ISBN 0-375-40349-3.
  2. Filming Locations for "The Chamber" IMDB.
  3. The Chamber reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
  4. Ebert, Roger (October 11, 1996). "The Chamber". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  5. James Berardinelli (1996). "The Chamber review". Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  6. Tina Jordan (February 13, 2004). "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
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