Primal Fear

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

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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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