It’s no secret; I’m a huge, huge fan of John Grisham’s work, but quite honestly, only his legal thrillers. I don’t care for his writing when he strays away from that genre and tries something else. For example, I didn’t like A Painted House, and I’m not crazy about his Theodore Boone series. There are more books in between, but I don't buy them unless they're legal thrillers. I swear, I must have been in law in a previous life. I'm extremely intrigued by it.
It has been said more than once that you write what you know, and John Grisham knows the law really well. But I'd like to add to that. You can still write about what you don't know--just do your research. So today, I’m talking about The Chamber, the movie vs the book and how they differ. I'll be pointing out how much creative licensing the producers took once they bought the rights for the film compared to the way the author intended the story to be shown.
I was actually introduced to John Grisham’s writing by my father-in-law, Howard Hughey, who was an avid reader. He has since passed on, and I can only hope he’s still reading John’s good work and my K. T. Roberts mysteries as well. Now you know I had to put in a plug for my own work, right?
What I like about John’s writing is that he captures your attention from the first chapter and the suspense mounts with each page. I love stories where I find myself routing for the villain. So odd, isn’t it? That’s definitely a sign of a good writer.
The Chamber is another story from the 60’s era and it's about Sam Cayhall, (Gene Hackman) a Klansmen who’s a racist bigot from America's ole' South. He is now on death row awaiting the gas chamber for killing two Jewish children who were in a building he blew up that had been scheduled to go off at 5:00 AM but went off at 8:00 instead.
Sam’s 26-year old grandson who's now a strapping young attorney, Adam Hall (Chris O’Donnell), shows up at the Mississippi State Penitentiary only 28 days before Sam is scheduled to be executed. This is the first time Adam and Sam are meeting, but he’s there to appeal his grandfather’s conviction. It doesn’t take long for Adam's motivation to become clear. Truth is, he’s always been ashamed of having Sam as a relative, hence the reason he'd changed his last name from Cayhall to Hall. Because of Sam's behavior, Adam’s father had committed suicide, his Aunt Lee is an alcoholic, and the fact is, Adam really never wanted to meet the man. He's here to heal the wounds.
Sam isn't very nice to him, but Adam hangs strong and his grandfather ultimately comes around to actually believing he might be saved.
At the time this movie came out, I was reading the book and had three chapters to go before I finished the story. Because I was going to see the movie, I put the book aside thinking I’d find out how it ended from the movie. Howard was extremely upset with me because I hadn’t read it to the end. He said the ending was different--he wasn't going to tell me what it was though, not until I read the ending after which we could discuss it. Well, I never did read the ending before Howard passed on, that is, not until this morning. I guess the writing of this post has me feeling a bit of remorse myself. My mother would have been so proud.
I actually thought both the book and the movie were well done. Both endings still had me crying but it was the book's ending that packed the punch I was hoping for. Through surfing the net, I learned that John Grisham himself called the movie a disaster and a train wreck from the beginning and in hindsight wished he’d hadn’t sold the rights for the book before he’d finished writing it. As I said, I thought both were good, but I do understand what John is saying.
The book and the movie ends with Adam losing the appeal and the execution is set to take place. Sam takes on a new persona and admits to Adam that he’s done a lot of bad things in his life and killed a lot of people, but he did not kill those two children. Adam wants to know why he's never told anyone, to which he admits he didn't think anyone would ever believe him.
Here's where the movie's ending is different: After the execution, Adam walks outside toward his car and into the large crowd of people either protesting or supporting the execution when Lee finally appears. Adam asks where she's been and she uses the excuse she was in treatment. They exchange a few words and ultimately hug and that's the end of it.
In the book, Adam leaves and drives for days, buys a six-pack of beer which the clerk doesn't want to sell to him because it's after midnight and it's against the law, but Adam lays the money on the counter and walks out with the beer anyway. The clerk shrugs and doesn't think calling the police for what she considers a minor infraction is worth it. In the next scene, Adam is at the cemetery sitting near his grandmother's gravestone; the plot next to hers is flagged waiting to be dug. Lee suddenly appears. He expresses his anger but she claims to have been in treatment. He tells her she's always so self absorbed but ultimately realizes she's not going to change and cursing her won't accomplish anything. Then he tells her about Sam and how in the end he'd hated no one, not even her. but he wants her to know that Sam was disappointed she didn't come, but he loved her anyway and wanted to make sure Adam told her. Lee tells Adam she did try to see Sam last night but it was too late and the guards wouldn't let her in. Instead, she went to the house where she grew up (she'd purchased it for $13,000 the prior week) and decided to burn it to the ground. I assume that was her attempt at healing for past mistakes. Adam doesn't believe her, but she makes him smell the gasoline on her hands.
Now it's Adam who begins to express remorse for failing his client who's dead. Lee tries to console him by reminding him he's only been an attorney for a year. He declares he's not going back to Chicago to work in the large law firm; he's going to Jackson to specialize in death penalty litigation. The story ends when Lee suggests they have breakfast at a little cafe where Sam used to take them as kids to celebrate their birthdays.
Howard, you were right--this one's for you!