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When an alter boy is found running from a murder scene covered in blood, his conviction seems certain. An arrogant defense attorney Martin Vail steps in and the issue of the boy's possible guilt may be less important than winning the case. At a glance, Primal Fear's plot comes across as a cliché court drama. However, it proves to be quite a bit more. The characters appear to be just as trite as the plot did, although they're more than meets the eye as well. Each role is three-dimensional and the viewer sees each character develop at a steady pace throughout the film. While the ending works, I predicted it rather quickly. Those looking for an intriguing court case with a well-written screenplay will find themselves filled with joy.
From simply seeing the cast list, I knew I was in for great performances. Richard Gere and Laura Linney perform as the two opposing defense attorneys. These two actors receive the most amount of screen time. Gere is phenomenal here and feels very natural in the character. Laura Linney feels just as much in her element as Richard Gere. Both of these actors work well together on screen and were clearly cast correctly. Despite the two of them being shown the most, Edward Norton undeniably stands out above the rest. He plays Aaron, the alter boy. Even though this was his first movie, he received an Oscar nomination. I'm always glad when I can genuinely say that the acting is fantastic all around.
When the Blockbuster in my area was still open, I recall passing by Primal Fear on the shelf numerous times. The cover never jumped at me and it never caught my attention. I didn't look at any critic opinions before viewing, but dove in with medium expectations. While I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting myself into, it was a good crime thriller. This could have easily turned into a mock episode of Law & Order, but it took the courthouse drama to a whole new level. A lot of connections between the characters and the audience are made. It's a shame that there aren't very many strong court films around and many come off as tacky and overused. Primal Fear is worth seeing for Edward Norton's astounding break-out performance alone.