The Star Chamber

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Disgusted with criminals escaping the judicial system via technicalities, an idealistic young judge investigates an alternative method for punishing the guilty.

ACTORS :  Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook, Yaphet Kotto

YEAR OF RELEASE :1983

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The Star Chamber  Disgusted with criminals escaping the judicial system via technicalities, an idealistic young judge investigates an alternative method for punishing the guilty.

Judges, Juries…And Executioners

The Star Chamber  The 1983 film THE STAR CHAMBER posits a situation that must seem outlandish, but does go right to the root of our justice system. What if a secret cabal of judges were set up to pass their own verdicts on criminals who had gotten off on minor technicalities?

This is the problem facing Michael Douglas, who portrays an idealistic judge of the L.A. Superior Court who finds himself being forced to free criminals up on charges that include kidnapping and murder because the police bent the law a bit to get the evidence that would send “the bad guys” to jail for life or possibly to Death Row. Douglas later learns from his mentor (the always watchable Hal Holbrook) about a secret cabal of judges–a Star Chamber–that metes out its own brand of justice against those it feels have wrongly been set free. As a result, numerous criminals wind up getting executed. The further Douglas gets into the Star Chamber, however, the more he realizes that the cure these judges propose to rid society of criminal disease is far worse than the disease itself.

Though it is not always plausible, THE STAR CHAMBER is nevertheless compelling, with Douglas and Holbrook giving standout performances under the direction of Peter Hyams (OUTLAND; CAPRICORN ONE; 2010), who co-wrote the film’s script with Roderick Taylor. Some might compare it to the 1973 Dirty Harry film MAGNUM FORCE (in which the cops take the law into their own hands), and many would say its theme of vigilante judges is drenched in right-wing gilt, but I don’t think that’s the case. This is one of those films that definitely makes you think; and while THE STAR CHAMBER may have been released twenty years ago, its themes still hold up in a world where, rightly or wrongly, people see the justice system as too slanted in favor of the criminals.

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