Primal Fear


Time Out says

Suave, womanising top Chicago attorney Martin Vail (Gere) is arrogant enough to demand the cover for any magazine interview he grants. In fact, he's such a publicity fiend, that when he catches a newsflash of young Aaron Stampler (Norton) attempting to escape from the scene of an ugly murder, he drops everything to be the first to offer his services - gratis. The stuttering Southern ex-hobo's accused of killing his guardian, the city's beloved archbishop. The DA, an old foe of Vail, and a friend of the victim, is insisting on the death penalty; and, to spice things up, Vail's embittered ex (Linney), a prosecutor in the DA's department, is detailed to the case. Despite a talky script (based on a book by William Diehl) full of hanging ethical, procedural and social conundrums, first-time director Hoblitt seems at ease in this two-act movie. The first hour, detailing the city's scummy realpolitik, is a smooth, predictable preamble to the ably executed trial-scene second half. There are twists, but few surprises. Gere speechifies grandly, and dashes around manfully in his tailor-made role, and Norton shows notable range, but unfortunately in an environment too mechanical for it to prove much.

By: WH


Release details

129 mins

Cast and crew

Gregory Hoblit
Steve Shagan, Ann Biderman
Richard Gere
Laura Linney
Frances McDormand
Edward Norton
John Mahoney
Alfre Woodard
Terry O'Quinn
Joe Spano
Tony Plana
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