Primal fear is a 1996 movie marking a double debut, both for the director Gregory Hoblit and for the great actor Edward Norton. Also, it’s one of the few films in which Richard Gere, the protagonist, seems a good actor! I recently bought it on DVD, I watched it, and I surely recommend it! Let me briefly explain why, and I will avoid spoilers.
Primal fear is the story of a murder trial. The victim is a very well-known priest and the only suspect is Aaron (Edward Norton), a young 19-year-old altar boy who is arrested after a daring escape from the murder scene. And who’s his advocate? Martin Vail (Richard Gere), a highly successful lawyer with few moral principles. In the courtroom he will face his ex-colleague (well, more than just an ex-colleague) Janet Venable (Laura Linney).
The film has a very classical structure: the two lawyers face each other, the defender unleashes his investigators to gather evidence that could help him avoiding conviction, and the judge tries to maintain order and balance. Obviously the film closes with the verdict, that I won’t spoil! So, what makes Primal fear a good movie?
Edward Norton. His film debut is INCREDIBLE. In each scene he brings to life a multifaceted, profound character, certainly aided by excellent dialogues (credit goes to the writer of the book on which the film is based, William Diehl, and the screenwriter Steve Shagan). And, as mentioned above, Richard Gere is great in portraying a cynical and patronizing lawyer. I don’t want to reveal anything more about the plot, since much of its charm is based on an unexpected twist.
But there’s more: the film is cynical, dirty, it shows us a corrupt world, a sordid environment with powerful and evil men, where the high society behaves badly, where justice and truth are forgotten. Using the words of Martin Vail, there are various versions of the truth, and the only one that matters is the one he creates in the minds of the twelve jurors in the courtroom.
Then add an excellent soundtrack (the theme is the wonderful Dulces Pontes by Canção do Mar), solid direction and photography, a sustained rhythm, and you get a good thriller! Ciao!