Review – Primal Fear (1996)


primal-fear-5232c9fda74acWelcome to Mind Control Month | Mental Health Week – Day 3. Five years ago, I participated in a movie podcast with a few other guys and we reviewed Edward Norton’s first and breakout film, Primal Fear. That’s right. Right from the get-go, he was an impressive actor. After that podcast was over and done with, I never saw or heard from those guys since and I thought my review itself was so outdated that it was just about time to do this over again. Get your critiquing caps on, folks. It’s time for a review. Let’s start with the plot.

When a young man, Aaron, is charged with the horrific murder of Archbishop Rushman, hot-shot Chicago lawyer Martin Vail takes on his defense at no charge. Aaron was a homeless street kid before he was taken in by the Archbishop. He’s shy and speaks with a stammer. Vail is convinced that Aaron is innocent but after discovering a video that shows Aaron may have had good reason to want the Archbishop dead, he begins to question that conclusion. When Aaron lashes out at the psychologist examining him another personality, Roy, is revealed. With the trial already underway, Vail cannot change Aaron plea and so has to find a way to introduce his client’s condition. Aaron has something of a surprise for him as well. (IMDb)

Now, this is a movie I was naturally born to love. I grew up on John Grisham and grew up to get my own degree in criminal justice. At the moment, I’m preparing to get started in a new job where I’m a court reporter/typist, and Primal Fear is, of course, a court drama/thriller. Right away, you’ll notice some really impressive lines of dialogue and actual acting, but at the same time, there are some technical aspects to the film that could’ve easily been done better, just weren’t.

As a breakout film for Edward Norton, he couldn’t have done any better than what he did here. This film, in a way, was all about showcasing acting talent, and what he did in this film played a big part in why he was ultimately chosen for one of his better-known films, Fight Club…which I reviewed yesterday.  This is all just first impression stuff. So, let’s go ahead and break down Primal Fear to interpret the stars.


Acting – 2 | Characters – 2 | Casting – 2 | Importance – 2 | Chemistry – 1

First up, we have the people category, starting off with the subcategory of acting, and thankfully, the acting was noticeably great. If nothing else, you should be watching the film for the tremendous acting from everyone involved. As for the subcategory of characters, these characters were diverse, unique, and most importantly, memorable. I am convinced that nobody else can play these characters. This cast was perfect for these roles. Absolutely every character in this film seemingly had an important role adding to the direction of the plot, I was impressed. They had a reason, they had a purpose, they had a history, and I love it. As far as the chemistry goes in this film, there wasn’t much of it. While it was fine, no one really cares about the relationships in this film.

Dialogue – 2 | Balanced – 2 | Story – 1 | Originality – 1 | Interesting – 2

Next up, we have the writing category, starting off with the dialogue, which was actually really well thought out. There’s a lot of memorable lines, and just the way people speak is hard to forget. Then again, you’ll often get that with courtroom dramas – quick and smart thinking. I would certainly say that the film is also very well-balanced and consistently holds a strong focus on the story at hand. When it comes to the actual story, I can’t really say it’s the best. It’s got a few things here and there that I think a lot of people will enjoy, but it’s certainly not the greatest story ever told. Is the film original? Well, I think elements of the film definitely feel fresh and new, but there’s always an itching feeling that we’ve seen this film before…so it’s not as original as it could’ve been. Was this movie interesting? Of course it was, don’t be silly. I was all-in for this one.

BTS SCORE – 6/10
Visuals – 1 | Directing – 1 | Editing – 1 | Advertisement – 2 | Music – 1

Next up, we’re taking a look at behind-the-scenes, starting with the visuals. In this case, the visuals were pretty standard and typical to what you’d expect. Nothing blows you away, nothing looks horrible, either. It is what it is, folks. Next, we’re taking a look at the directing, which slips by without you noticing it. That’s right, there wasn’t anything difficult or challenging for the director. They could’ve hired any director for the job and the movie would be exactly the same. Nothing challenging or difficult in the editor’s desk, folks. They stitched the movie together just fine, but there’s nothing else to report here, because even a kid could probably do it. As with most films, I consider this film to be exactly as-advertised, which is good. There wasn’t anything fancy or memorable about the music. It was basically as good as it needed to be in order to keep the tone in place…and that’s what they did here, as well.

Introduction – 2 | Inciting Incident – 2 | Obstacles – 2 | Climax – 2 | Falling Action – 0

Next up, we’re chugging right along into the narrative arc category, which is one of the easiest categories to score highly in. First up, we’re looking at the introduction, which did perfectly. By the inciting incident, we knew who everyone was, the basic setting, and what’s going on in these people’s lives. How about the inciting incident? That was perfectly clear and set the rest of the film up for a good ride. How were the obstacles? Totally fine. There were plenty of clear obstacles in the way, just as you’d come to expect. How was the climax? The climax was perfect. It felt like a perfect culmination of everything else put together, just as it should. Finally, what about the falling action? Truthfully, the movie really just ended right there. There was no real calming down moment, nor a return to the new norm, so…take that as you will.

Rewatchability – 1 | Fun – 1 | Impulse/Buy – 0 | Impulse/Talk – 0 | Sucks Audience IN – 1

Okay, so was this movie as entertaining as it wanted to be? Let’s get into that. As far as rewatchability is considered, I don’t know. I might watch it again if I was in the mood, but I don’t see myself looking for the film anytime soon. Did I have fun while watching it, at least? To a degree, yeah, but that really just had to come down to a few scenes here and there, not the entire film. Do I have any impulse to buy it? No way, Jose! What about talking to somebody about the film that hasn’t heard of it? I really have no impulse to tell anybody about it, honestly. Does this suck you in, though? Maybe in certain parts, but definitely not throughout.

Monthly Theme – 5, Weekly Theme – 10, Mystery – 5, Drama – 10, Halfway Decent – 10

Now we’re onto the five specialty questions that I asked before seeing the movie again. First, we have the monthly theme of mind control, how was that? Well, it’s hard to really get into the themed questions very much because I’m trying not to give so much away, but the idea revolves around multiple personality disorder, which is a massive part in this film – it’s just not as focused on as it is on the lawyer, so I gave that half points. The weekly theme of mental health? Yeah, I’d definitely say that played such a major part in this film that I’ll have to give full points there. How was the mystery? They pretty much say it in the beginning. The lawer doesn’t care if he did it or not, it’s a job, period…so that set the tone for the audience as well…we really don’t care about the actual mystery, though it is there, so half points. Drama? Well, it’s a court drama, so yes, full points. Is it halfway decent? Definitely. It may lack in anything impressive for the directing or editing, but it’s still a very impressive film overall. Full points there.

TOTAL – 74/100

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