‘Primal Fear’ (1996) | movie review

Being a major in Criminal Justice, and a huge fan of John Grisham novels, I am prone to enjoy a good legal thriller. While “Primal Fear” has the same aspects of a legal thriller, it is more along the lines of a legal suspense film, and there is a difference. The biggest thing that both types of films have to look out for is sounding smart, and keeping the audience intrigued, which this film accomplishes ten fold.

Edward Norton plays in what is defined as his “breakout” role, and is in fact, his first role in film, as Aaron, an alter boy accused of murder in the first degree. Even as the odds are outstandingly against him, a ruthless attorney (Richard Gere) takes the case pro-bono. While it is just about winning for him at first, he soon begins to believe Aaron’s story.

When evidence begins to roll in supporting the theory that Aaron has multiple-personality disorder, odds again begin stacking up against him, and it is up to his lawyer to prove without reasonable doubt that not Aaron committed the crime, but his alter-ego Roy.

For being the first role in his career, Norton picked the jackpot. It is obvious that this role is what won him his role in Fight Club, for having a similar element of multiple-personality disorder. The transformation of Gere’s character from ruthless attorney to attorney that wants to uncover the facts that seem to go deeper and deeper feels genuine and completely keeps the audience’s attention.  Laura Linney also put on a phenomenal performance as Janet Venable, the prosecutor of the case. All three put together created an unforgettable chemistry.

The film does open slowly, and creates a questionable factor to whether or not the film will get any better, but it does, and at a rather quick pace as well. I categorize this film as not a legal thriller, but suspense because unlike many Grisham stories, the majority of this film takes place in a courtroom, much like an episode of “Law & Order”. Even the trumpet/bass music in the movie reflects the music in “Law & Order”. However, the conspiracy and building suspense is very much like a Grisham novel, so this would have to be a cross between the two.

The scene at the tail-end of the film with Laura Linney cross-examining Aaron was an incredibly powerful scene. I would have to say that scene was my favorite out of the entire film. The end reveal is something I often notice, but for some reason it came as a complete shock to me, which is pretty huge in and of itself.

Great acting, great writing, great cinematography. This movie will hook you in, and continue to do so until the very end, and have you thinking about it long after the film has stopped.




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