Primal Fear (1994)

7.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 7/10

Edward Norton, Richard Gere

So-so story is unrealistic and over-the-top

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Primal Fear

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):   April 3, 1994

MPAA Rating:  R



Darn it, you found me! Your turn to hide now!

Martin Vail (Richard Gere) believes everyone deserves a fair trial, and he doesn’t care if a person is innocent or guilty. When a boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) is accused of killing popular Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson), Martin might have an actual innocent client. Facing off against his former lover Janet Venable (Laura Linney) in court, Vail has do the seemingly impossible and prove that Aaron didn’t kill Rushman. What seems like an open and shut case might turn into the case of Vail’s life.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit, Primal Fear adapted the 1993 novel by William Diehl. The movie was met by mostly positive reviews but rave reviews for newcomer Edward Norton. Norton went on to win a Golden Globe and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


Hey…want to play “Court”?

Primal Fear is one of those movies that is so-so with strong acting. Much of the plot is rather ridiculous and so overblown that it can’t be taken seriously. The police work, the court scenes, and the pop-psychiatrist stuff are all pretty unrealistic. It is like a Matlock episode that is even more unlikely.

What saves Primal Fear from just being a lackluster film is Edward Norton. He really developed the character into something real. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were considered for the role, and allegedly Wil Wheaton turned down the chance (he has said he regretted it).  Norton can go from the nice innocent to the angry Roy with ease. I remember thinking that I would have a hard time seeing Edward Norton differently when the movie came out, but now I sometimes I forget this Oscar winning turn.  The trick ending works only because of him.


You have some problems, kid

I also feel that due to Norton’s great performance that Richard Gere is a little underrated in this film. He plays as slick and sometimes sleazy. Despite his cool, debonair performance, Gere is likable as an attorney that many could see as scum. He later perfected this character in Chicago when he played a very similar role in Billy Flynn. Here, you still feel sorry for him when you realize how easily Norton gets him (and hurts him because of it).

Primal Fear is a simple movie that delivers a bit more than could be expected from it. I think it is one of those movies you can watch every once in a while and enjoy it, then put it away for years and forget about it. The movie has a lot of actors that have continued on to bigger and better things, so it is kind of fun to go back and watch this.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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