Movie #70 2021: Primal Fear (1996)

Primal Fear. What an utterly basic, bland title for a film. In all honesty, it doesn’t even relate to anything that goes on within this movie either. What I’m asking is for you to put that to one side because this film is way better than its title would suggest.

Primal Fear is the mid-nineties legal drama movie about an attorney (Richard Gere) who takes on the case of a poor altar boy pro-bono. The crime? Aaron (the boy in question, played by a young Edward Norton) is arrested after the police suspect he brutally murdered the bishop who has taken him in. It’s not all straightforward however (as you would expect), as it is soon revealed that there was possibly another person in the room when the murder took place. It’s difficult to say any more because the Big Bang of a plot twists comes right at the very end and it would do the film an injustice to tell you what that huge twist is. So watch it for yourself, lazy pants!

If one were to summarise it in a sentence, one would say that Gregory Hoblit’s film is a pretty standard courtroom drama on the surface, but it’s backed up by an interesting murder storyline, a surprising psychological twist and a cast of outstanding actors. Are you intrigued yet?

To expand, Richard Gere as the lead could have been extremely boring, but he does some excellent work here – perhaps some of the best work he’s ever done. On top of that, you have the likes of Frances McDormandLaura LinneyAlfre Woodard and Andre Braugher in supporting roles, with a young Ed Norton proving he’s more than just a bad Incredible Hulk movie. What could be better than that?!

With all the heinous shit perverting the Catholic Church over the past few decades, it’s pretty easy to deduce what is going on behind the scenes here without thinking too hard. (I promise that’s not a spoiler.) However, it’s executed brilliantly. Sadly, it’s nothing we won’t see coming from the outset aside from that previously mentioned twist, but the storytelling is fabulous, and it’s paced extremely well, especially for such a long movie. 

I can’t possibly write this review without bringing up this marketing poster for it:

A dull sepia that highlights a pluming angel wing coming out of Richard Gere’s back? Genius. Before I saw the movie, I somehow didn’t even notice the wing, but now I have I’m completely shook by how great that poster is.

It’s not a perfect movie though and I won’t pretend it is. There are issues with the score for sure. It’s your standard, melodramatic cop drama type soundtrack that is sometimes so over the top that it’s distracting, but… it was the nineties. What did you expect? Cheesy indeed, but not so terrible that it mars the movie as a whole. 

Furthermore, maybe at the time of release this film was pretty unique, but it’s quite predictable for viewers in this day and age. However, it’s mostly well made and an interesting narrative nevertheless, plus the performances boost up its overall effectiveness. 

Finally, the ending was exactly what I wanted it to be and I was genuinely surprised. Whilst the majority of the plot is pretty obvious, you’ll end up feeling wholly flabbergasted when the ending is revealed.

Again, not perfect, but I’d definitely recommend Primal Fear if you’re into crime and courtroom type stories, awful title notwithstanding.

Primal Fear is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

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