In the late 70's and early 80's, there were few writer/directors more reliable for turning out enjoyable films than Peter Hyams. "Running Scared", "Outland", "Capricorn One" were all terrific and that streak was continued, albeit less successfully at the box office, with 1983's THE STAR CHAMBER.
Michael Douglas is young judge Steven Hardin, determined to enforce the letter of the law and frustrated when he's constantly forced to release guilty suspects due to courtroom technicalities.
Older mentor Benjamin Caulfield (Hal Holbrook at full power) introduces him to a secret group of fellow judges who share his frustration.
Their clandestine meetings (under just the right spooky lighting to be effective) render sentences on the ones that got away, whom are all executed without delay by hit men.
Douglas resists, but when he's forced to release two men very likely guilty of torturing and killing a young boy, his morals are tested.
Yaphet Kotto (Live and Let Die) is a detective circling the murder cases, James Sikking (Outland) is the father of the young murdered boy.
Douglas is his usual solid self wrestling with the basics of right and wrong in a system that seems tilted toward the bad guys.
Hyams does a great job creating a basic vigilante/courtroom/crime drama and inserting three well executed actions scenes in to keep you on your toes. He always had a way of elevating standard material into something much more enjoyable. While this one bombed at the box office and was pulled from most theatres after less than a month, Hyams followed it up with his biggest film, 2010.
Featuring a great cast, some pretty cool lighting effects (especially in the warehouse set conclusion)loaded with 80's style violence and settings, THE STAR CHAMBER rises above its TV crime drama roots and earns a solid B.