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Primal Fear (1996)

Director: Gregory Hoblit     Starring: Edward Norton Richard Gere
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Primal Fear
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Format: DVD
Sku: 210562390
UPC: 097361422046
UPC 14: 00097361422046
Rating: Game Rating Code
See more in Suspense
Sooner or Later a Man Who Wears Two Faces Forgets Which One is Real.
A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney's career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the murder of a Chicago archbishop. Covered with blood, Aaron was captured after a foot chase broadcast live on TV, making a gleeful Vail certain that he could raise his profile by defending the obviously guilty suspect. Assigned to prosecute is Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who is Vail's ex-girlfriend. Vail's case becomes more complicated than he expected when a psychologist, Dr. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand) concludes that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder. Vail also uncovers evidence that the archbishop was involved in a corrupt land scheme and may have molested young parishioners. Now the cynical, opportunistic attorney is faced with a daunting prospect, a client who may actually deserve his best defense. Its shocking, twist ending made Primal Fear (1996) a big box office hit and earned Norton, in his screen debut, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

"A mesmerizing mystery! An awesome ending!  George Pennacchio, CBS-TV
"Gere is excellent. A brilliant debut performance by Edward Norton.  Jack Mathews, Newsday
"A tight courtroom melodrama that serves up twist after twist...  Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
"...riveting...blend[s] quirky suspense with emotion-charged courtroom drama...  Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle
"A crackling courtroom drama with more twists than O.J. had alibis.  Rita Kempley, The Washington Post

Editor's Note
Powerful, media-hungry Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) gets in over his head when he takes the case of an altar boy (Edward Norton making his film debut) accused of murdering an archbishop. His opponent for the prosecution is his former protege and lover Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who's out to make this her watershed case. A suspenseful courtroom with a truly unexpected ending, this drama is based on the novel by William Diehl.


Video Features DVD, Special Edition, Widescreen, No Longer Produced

Technical Info

Release Information
Video Mfg Name Studio: Paramount
Video Release Date Release Date: 1/17/2012
Video Play Time Running Time: 130 minutes
Video Release Year Original Release Date: 1996
Video CategoryId Catalog ID: 142204
Video UPC UPC: 00097361422046
Video Number of Discs Number of Discs: 1

Audio & Video
Video Original Language Original Language: English
Video Audio Spec Available Audio Tracks: English
Video Color Spec Video: Color

Aspect Ratio
Video Aspect Ratio Widescreen  1.85:1

Cast & Crew

Video Cast Info Edward Norton
Video Cast Info John Mahoney
Video Cast Info Laura Linney
Video Cast Info Andre Braugher
Video Cast Info Richard Gere
Video Cast Info Frances McDormand
Video Cast Info Alfre Woodard
Video Cast Info Maura Tierney
Video Cast Info William Diehl - Story
Video Cast Info James Newton Howard - Composer
Video Cast Info David Rosenbloom - Editor
Video Cast Info Steve Shagan - Screenwriter
Video Cast Info Michael Chapman - Director of Photography
Video Cast Info Jeannine Claudia Oppewall - Production Designer
Video Cast Info Gary Lucchesi - Producer
Video Cast Info Ann Biderman - Screenwriter
Video Cast Info Gregory Hoblit - Director
Plot Summary
In Chicago, an Archbishop has been brutally murdered, and a sweet-faced altar boy named Aaron -- who was seen fleeing the scene of the crime and whose clothes were soaked in blood -- is charged with the crime. Aaron claims he was present when the murder occurred, but that he is not the killer.| Coming to Aaron's rescue in this high-profile case is Martin Vail, a cocky lawyer who loves the media's spotlight as much as he loves his job. The legal road ahead of Martin and Aaron is filled with many obstacles, including a very determined prosecuting attorney (who's Martin's ex-lover), revelations about the Archbishop's "relationship" with the altar boys, and Aaron himself, who has a very violent, repugnant second personality named Roy. | Is Aaron/Roy guilty? Or is he taking the fall for someone else?


Oscar (1997)
   Video Award Name Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Golden Globe (1997)
Video Award Name Edward Norton, Winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

British Academy Awards (1997)
   Video Award Name Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

MTV Award (1997)
   Video Award Name Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Villain

Memorable Quotes

"When your mother says she loves you, ask for a second opinion." ---- Martin Vail (RICHARD GERE), to a reporter who is interviewing him.

Professional Reviews

"...Taut thriller....[Norton gives a] hypnotic performance..." 12/01/1996 p.115-16

USA Today
"...Richard Gere gives a focused performance..." 04/03/1996 p.7D

Entertainment Weekly
"...Gere's showy yet mature performance holds the movie together....PRIMAL is the most riveting courtroom drama since 1982's THE VERDICT..." -- Rating: B 10/18/1996 pp.88-9

"...Well-crafted....Linney is excellent....Hoblit's direction is ultra-attentive to story points..." 04/01/1996

Chicago Sun-Times
"...[Gere] shows what an interesting actor he can be. PRIMAL FEAR contains some of his best work..." 04/03/1996 p.45

Chicago Sun-Times
"The plot is as good as crime procedurals get, but the movie is really better than its plot because of the three-dimensional characters." 04/05/1996

ReelViews 6 of 10
One of the most unfortunate aspects of a courtroom thriller is the tendency to degenerate into preposterous melodrama. It's as if the basic situation of having a person on trial for their life isn't inherently powerful enough. As a result, cheap theatrics are thrown in to spice things up, and, in the process, wreck any semblance of credibility. Primal Fear, director Gregory Hoblit's adaptation of William Diehl's novel, is an obvious example. At times, it's taut, sharp, and astute, but those qualities are overwhelmed by a storyline that takes too many wrong turns...The big "twist" at the end (which won't be much of a surprise to anyone who has seen more than a handful of courtroom thrillers) isn't the only thing that hurts Primal Fear, since nearly every scene in the last half-hour has something wrong with it. Although the film would like the audience to believe that it's addressing important issues about justice and court procedures, those things are mere window dressing for a tawdry plot that involves sex-obsessed archbishops, suspects with multiple personalities, and a corrupt prosecutor. We've seen all these things before in more cleverly-written screenplays...Even had Primal Fear trimmed its length to something more reasonable, it still wouldn't have been involving. The flat, unsympathetic characters generate no interest and the overplotted story offers more cliches than legitimate surprises. Most of the film's better aspects, like Vail's cynicism about the judicial process, fall by the wayside to facilitate the absurd conclusion. Despite high production standards and a slick advertising campaign, Primal Fear is as trite and routine as any made-for-TV courtroom drama. - James Berardinelli

Chicago Sun-Times 9 of 10
Once it was cops who solved crimes. Then private eyes. In the Grisham era, it has been lawyers. ``Primal Fear,'' based on a novel by William Diehl, stars Richard Gere as a flamboyant Chicago defense attorney who chases defendants instead of ambulances and volunteers his services when a teenager from Kentucky is charged with murdering an archbishop...Why? Because he knows the case will be the most sensational of the year, and he wants to be where the action is. And maybe because he thinks the kid might be innocent, although the movie's literate, pointed dialogue makes it clear that guilt isn't an issue with this lawyer: Every defendant deserves a competent defense, he believes...The defense attorney is named Martin Vail. In playing him, Gere creates one of the best performances of his career, nuanced and smart, although the conventions of the thriller genre distract from how good it really is...The best crime movies and novels are not about who did it, or why. They are about how the characters feel about what happened. The screenplay for ``Primal Fear,'' by Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman, knows that and uses the labyrinthine plot details as backdrop to issues of the identity. Because this movie has a commercial destiny, of course the crime is sensational and the revelations are startling. But the character of Martin Vail is so well done that it could have supported a smaller, more plausible movie...Richard Gere's film choices could use more quality control, but at times, as in `` Days of Heaven,'' ``American Gigolo,'' ``Pretty Woman,'' ``Internal Affairs,'' ``Miles From Home'' and ``Mr. Jones,'' he shows what an interesting actor he can be. ``Primal Fear'' contains some of his best work. - Roger Ebert

Product Attributes

Product attributeVideo Format:   DVD
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