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Primal Fear Movie Review

Updated on December 26, 2017

Primal Fear Review


“Primal Fear,” ranks up in the upper echelon as one of the top courtroom dramas of all-time. This was the debut of an actor named “Edward Norton.” He is such a force to be reckoned with, that he can turn any average film/story into performances that will be remembered. “Primal Fear” put him on the map as one of the top actor’s in his generation. At the time of “Primal Fear,” he was a boyishly, innocent, 27 year old, but 2 years later we would see the raw, evil, power he’d bring to his first lead starring role, as Derek Vinyard in the acclaimed “American History X.”

“Primal Fear,” was based on a novel by William Diehl, was adapted by Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman, and was directed by Gregory Hoblit (Fallen, Frequency, Hart’s War, Fracture). Hoblit knew full well that with an intricate story of characters, he’d have to get the right actors to fit such roles. To lead “Primal Fear,” he knew, first thing, that Richard Gere (Red Corner, Mothman Prophecies, Chicago) fit everything that is attorney Martin Vail. A young Laura Linney (The Big C, You Can Count On Me, Mothman Prophecies) was really yet to be established, but had a good background as a stage actress that also wowed director Hoblit to cast her as the opposing attorney Janet Venable. “Primal Fear” was coming to fruition, and was ready with their big 3 casted. The film would be released in 1996 by Paramount Pictures, in association with Rysher Entertainment, and would be Rated R for grisly violence, strong language, and a sex scene.

“Primal Fear,” begins with a young man, Aaron (Norton), who is being charged with a horrific murder of an Archbishop. A hot-shot, Chicago, lawyer, Martin Vail (Gere), feels the case building to be a big media sensation, so he decides to defend Aaron pro bono. Aaron was a lost soul, street kid, before being taken in by the Archbishop. He is extremely shy, and talks with a stutter. Martin Vail feels convinced of Aaron’s innocence, but later discovers a video that would give Aaron reason why he would want the Archbishop dead. During a psychology evaluation Aaron lashes out revealing another personality, Roy. Now feeling unsure about Aaron’s innocence, with the trial underway, Vail cannot change Aaron’s plea, so he has to find a way to bring up his client’s condition, within the case.

“Primal Fear” is a film that will be remembered, mainly, for the performance that Edward Norton brings. This was not only his first film, but it would also earn him a Golden Globe award for supporting actor, and he’d also be nominated; that year’s Oscar would go to Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire. I can’t say enough about Edward Norton. He’s one of my favorite actors, and he shows his versatility and talent with little nuances he brings to his characters he plays. I recently learned that the stutter he uses in the role of Aaron Stampler was something not in the script, and something he felt just added to the character. If this film passed you by, I’d say this is a must see, and once the ending sinks its teeth in you, you’ll know what I mean.


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