Classic Review – Primal Fear (1996)

Primal Fear - post

Title – Primal Fear (1996)

Director – Gregory Hoblit (Fracture)

Cast – Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand, Terry O’Quinn, Steven Bauer

Plot – Hot shot lawyer Martin Veil (Gere) takes on a pro-bono case involving dim witted choir boy Aaron Stampler (Norton) who is accused of murdering famous Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson). The case however is anything but straightforward as revelations start to emerge about not only Stampler but Rushman’s dealings with city officials.

 “Why gamble with money when you can gamble with people’s lives?”

 Review by Eddie on 19/08/2014

An exemplary example of not only the courtroom drama but the murder mystery thriller sets of sub genres, Gregory Hoblit’s 1996 classic Primal Fear is a movie that to this day stands the test of time thanks to an anchoring turn by the once A listing Richard Gere and the firecracker debut by the ever young Edward Norton in his freakishly good role of troubled, murder accused youth Aaron Stampler.

In this modern day and age of courtroom/murder mystery thrillers there is a tendency to be either overly simplistic in there set ups or over complicated to the state of losing the plot, but Primal Fear is that rare moulding of everything coming together in not only a surprising way but a believable way. Director Hoblit (who never really went on with the promise he showed here, even when trying to replicate similar results with Fracture a few years back) is in control of the not only the story transpiring but the actors inhabiting their roles. From bit players John Mahoney as slimy government official Shaughnessy, Laura Linney as hardworking lawyer Janet Venable and Gere as justifiably arrogant hot shot lawyer Martin Vail who does believe in the righteousness of innocent until proven guilty, the whole cast really is solidly on song. While all these elements combine to create a memorable movie set up it was in the Oscar nominated turn of young Edward Norton where this film has grown into the revered classic it is.

As stuttering choir boy Aaron, Norton wholeheartedly took control of this young man who SPOILER ALERT hides a dark alter ego below the surface who completely masks Aaron’s shy and unconfident demeanour. The film’s ace up its sleeve is not even revealed until past the half way mark and it’s a credit to the confidence of director Hoblit and Norton that the appearance of this alter ego named Roy makes such an impact in severely limited screen time. It’s a master class of acting what Norton does and come the much talked about finale there is no question what one has just witnessed is a reveal that absolutely pays off. It was a turn that well and truly deserved it’s Oscar nominated recognition and till this day must be one of the most fully formed debuts by a young star in movie history.

Primal Fear is a mysterious thriller at its best and a fine example of a cast coming together to create a memorable believable ensemble. In concerns to Norton, this is a fantastic example of an actor that in his career has produced an abundance of stunning turns that in Primal Fear struck gold in arguably his most memorable performance and in a catalogue that includes Fight Club and American History X, that is quite some feat.

4 and a half bloodied pumped up kicks out of 5

15 responses to “Classic Review – Primal Fear (1996)

  1. Man, this is SUCH a good film. “Freakishly good” is a perfect description of Norton’s work here. His transition between Aaron and Roy is amazing. Awesome review.

  2. Agree with you 1000 per cent. This is a terrific movie and when you look at the cast–they all went on to have very successful careers. Norton was terrific in it, for sure.

  3. Pingback: Classic Review – Fight Club (1999) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  4. Pingback: 10 Classic Acting Debuts: Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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