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Primal Fear

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Product Overview

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.


Studio Paramount
SKU 210562390
UPC 097361422046
UPC 14 00097361422046
Format DVD
Release Date 1/17/2012
Rating Rating
Aspect Ratio
Widescreen  1.85:1
Oscar (1997) Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Golden Globe (1997) Edward Norton, Winner, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
British Academy Awards (1997) Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
MTV Award (1997) Edward Norton, Nominee, Best Villain
ReviewSource ReelViews
Review 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.
Reviewer James Berardinelli
ReviewRating 6
ReviewSource Chicago Sun-Times
Review 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.
Reviewer Roger Ebert
ReviewRating 9
DVD, Special Edition, Widescreen, No Longer Produced
Product Attributes
Video Format DVD
George Pennacchio, CBS-TV A mesmerizing mystery! An awesome ending!
Jack Mathews, Newsday Gere is excellent. A brilliant debut performance by Edward Norton.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times A tight courtroom melodrama that serves up twist after twist...
Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle ...riveting...blend[s] quirky suspense with emotion-charged courtroom drama...
Rita Kempley, The Washington Post A crackling courtroom drama with more twists than O.J. had alibis.
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