|PRIMAL FEAR (1996)|
|"I speak. You do not speak. Your job is to just sit there and look innocent."|
|Time: 130 mins.|
Genre: Thriller/Courtroom Drama
Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Norton).
An intense courtroom drama with one unexpected twist after another. Even the usual leaden acting style of Richard Gere doesn't detract from the high energy, wickedly intelligent, suspense-filled story. The performances, including Gere's, make this film what it is. Edward Norton, does an amazing job and deserves every award he received for this film. It's stunning to think that this was his first major acting role. He's absolutely brilliant. Quite a kick start to a young man's career.
The plot isn't all that unusual. Gere plays an arrogant, ruthless defense lawyer, unburdened by a conscience, who takes on the case of his career the defense of a young man accused of brutally murdering the city's archbishop. The case appears pretty cut and dried. Aaron (Norton) used to work for the archbishop and was captured running away from the scene of the crime covered in blood. If that information isn't damaging enough his prints are all over the murder weapon. How could he be innocent? The city is outraged, demanding swift justice for their beloved leader. The district attorney comes out with both guns blazing, determined to see this young man hang for this brutal murder.
Enter Martin Vail. This is exactly the type of case he's been looking for. He's the only one who believes Aaron's story. Aaron claims there was someone else in the room, which the evidence does not support. He no idea what happened since he blacked out a common occurrence for him when he saw what had been done to the bishop. When he came to he tried to help and that's why he was covered in blood. Aaron is such a sweet, simple boy, who speaks with a stutter. He's incapable of hurting a fly, never mind stabbing someone to death. Martin can't wait to prove him innocent. None of his colleagues, nor his ex-girlfriend Janet (Linney), who happens to be the prosecuting attorney, can understand why he would accept a case where the accused is so obviously guilty. There's no evidence against anyone but Aaron.
That's the challenge for Martin. As the trial nears, he plays every card he can get his hands on or think up. What he discovers about both victim and client is beyond his wildest imaginings. Both are guilty of the unthinkable and each pays the price. Gere and Norton are amazing together as the slick lawyer and his country bumpkin client. Their bond one of desperation as they try to create a defense that the jury will believe and keep Aaron out of the electric chair. These scenes are the core of the film, full of nuances and surprises that will keep you guessing what really happened right up to the film's final moments. I don't want to reveal anything because it will ruin the affect. Needless to say, the end stunned me and that's pretty hard to do.
If you like courtroom dramas, PRIMAL FEAR is one of the best to come out in a long time. It is well-written, intelligent and original, which is a hard thing to pull off in this genre these days. The acting is first rate. I even enjoyed watching Gere strut around. If he was really an attorney and I needed one, I'd hire him in a second. A note of caution for the squeamish set: the murder scene is extremely graphic, so look away if that kind of thing bothers you.