129 Min | Crime – Drama – Mystery | May 1996
IMDB Rating: 7.7
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton
Primal Fear Review: Although Richard Gere has one of his juiciest roles in Primal Fear, the best performance by far is that of Edward Norton who got the film’s only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a stunning debut picture. It’s the kind of debut that any player would like to make and the trick is to keep up a high standard you’ve already set for yourself. Which Norton to his credit certainly has in his career. But as to Gere he plays Martin Vail, a top criminal defense attorney who will let everyone know it if they haven’t figured it out. It’s a tricky part because a guy this arrogant has to maintain some kind of surface likability or else you’d never believe he’d ever win a case in front of a jury. As for movie viewers they must have a rooting interest for him as well. But Gere’s definitely a guy who they make lawyer jokes about.
In Primal Fear, a young altar boy has murdered the archbishop of Chicago, a mush mouth kid with a Kentucky twang played by Edward Norton. He’s part of a choir of street kids that the Chicago archdiocese shows off on many an occasion. It was a particularly brutal murder, multiple stabbings and the carving of a cryptic message in the chest of the deceased. Gere makes no bones about it, he’s wanting this case because of the headlines it will bring him. But when F. Lee Bailey or Johnnie Cochran offers to defend you for nothing, you don’t ask questions. Which brings us to Norton who has you might have gathered is not all he seems. He’s a street kid and he’s used to getting over on people himself. It’s one of the darkest characters ever done on screen, maybe a bit too dark for Academy tastes. That might have been the reason that Cuba Gooding beat out Norton for Best Supporting Actor with his much lighter role in Jerry Maguire.
One in this film you will notice are Laura Linney as the Assistant District Attorney who Gere was once involved with and is getting a lot of pressure to bring in a guilty verdict for understandable political reasons. I also liked Alfre Woodard as the very patient judge at Norton’s trial and Frances McDormand as the psychiatrist who examines Norton. If you think you’ve figured out what’s behind Primal Fear, rest assured you haven’t from this description. Let’s just say everyone gets good and played here. Which brings to mind the dedication for this review. Gere’s attorney character is likable, but arrogant. Back in the day I knew an attorney who was arrogant without any real reason for the arrogance. He’d love to have been Richard Gere, I’m sure he saw himself that way. Overall, Primal Fear is an excellent movie, enjoy it.