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An overlooked gem
on 2 January 2013
It must be 20 years ago that I saw this film, but it has remained fresh in my mind ever since. Michael Douglas, in what is probably a career-best performance, plays Judge Hardin, a high-minded officer of the judicial system who becomes frustrated at the law's perceived inability to adequately punish those who are clearly guilty, but who get off on the technicalities that he is duty-bound to enforce. He comes to hear of the Star Chamber - not a changing-room for celebrities but a shadowy vigilante organisation named after the Tudor court that handed out summary punishment to those who fell foul of its power. The film's Star Chamber, made up in the main of judiciary members who, like Hardin, are sick of seeing offenders go free, meet in camera once a month or so and decide amongst thenmselves whether or not an accused party is really guilty. If they decide he is, they send an assassin out to get him. All goes well until Hardin discovers that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, an apparently guilty pair of lowlifes are, in fact, not guilty after all. He sets out to try and save them...
This is more than just a good thriller. It raises fundamental points about the probity of the law, and whether or not vigilante action is ever really justified; whether the judicial system - ANY judicial system - is adequate to its purpose and, if it isn't, what should be done about it.
I haven't seen hide nor hair of this cracking little thriller for a good twenty years, so I don't know how it would stand up now, but I suspect it is as good now as it ever was (mullet haircuts notwithstanding). If you get a chance, watch it.