Opening with a terrific foot chase, featuring great performances from Michael Douglas, Yaphet Kotto and Hal Holbrook, The Star Chamber (directed by Peter Hyams) sets itself up to be a great 70s-style thriller before losing its way with a too-neat ending which neuters what had come before.
Douglas stars as a newly-minted judge who has become disillusioned with the limitations of the system after a vicious criminal is let go due to a legal loophole. He falls under the sway of Holbrook's older judge, who lures the younger man into a small, secret group of jurists -- the Star Chamber of the title.
The Star Chamber has tasked itself with re-trying cases in which guilty suspects were let off on technicalities. Once a verdict has been decided, a hitman goes out and kills the target.
When Douglas bungles a case, and the hitman is sent after innocent parties, he realises the error he has made and tries to foil the Star Chamber's plans.
I've always been a fan of Douglas. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he always seems to take on unconventional projects no obvious commercial possibilities. Films like The Star Chamber and The China Syndrome (1979), while not as strong as his later work, show that he was always willing to take chances on interesting concepts.
It is rare that a movie starts strong, builds well and then completely falls apart at the end. Like another movie I reviewed last year, Betrayed, I spent the first hour wondering why this movie was not more well known. By the end, it was pretty clear why.
Still, unlike Betrayed, this movie's final act is not as big of a dip in quality, and the movie is still worth a look.