Primal Fear (1996): An Intense Legal Thriller with an Unforgettable Twist


At the end of the 1990s, films that mock the judicial system in an explicit way, which, with the help of corrupt judges, egocentric lawyers and poor conduct of the investigation, managed to make mistakes that provoke laughter and disbelief, gained popularity.

Primal Fear (1996): An Intense Legal Thriller with an Unforgettable Twist

This project was created directly as a product of the famous trial of the famous American football player OJ Simpson, who, in the opinion of the vast majority, was unjustly released.

The main protagonist of the film is Martin Vale, a well-known egocentric lawyer who specializes in defending more serious cases such as murderers and mobsters.

After the scandalous murder of the Chicago Archbishop Rusherman, a well-known benefactor and a powerful man, his assistant Aaron Stampler was arrested, who was found covered in blood not far from the place of the murder. Martina is attracted by the popularity of this event and Aaron’s innocent, childish appearance, and takes over the case.

As a state prosecutor, he is opposed by his former colleague and mistress Janet, who was sent by several powerful people whom the late archbishop resented.

This court thriller has as its main theme the relationship between the image of a man that is shown to the world and the image that is kept exclusively for oneself. Lawyer Martin, on the other hand, skillfully balances between an egocentric, charismatic cynic and a naive idealist with almost parental instincts.

Usually, the topic of lawyer’s ethics runs through court thrillers, and it is surprising that it is not touched at all here, so the characters are poorly characterized and present themselves as cold-blooded people without a sense of correctness.

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The film’s director Gregory Hoblit gathered an excellent team of actors, but the expected quality was lacking. One gets the impression that he made another episode of his crime TV series, not a feature film.

The script has holes, omits events that are mentioned in the hints and that could attract attention, and some rather uninteresting and relatively unnecessary ones are inserted. When everything is added and subtracted, a film is obtained that promises a lot, but gradually turns into an unexciting and protracted episode of the serial film, which has a surprisingly great outcome.

The role of the lawyer was brilliantly performed by Richard Gere, who has support in the standard good Laura Linney and the episodic writers Frences MsDormand and John Mahoney. However, the strongest impression is left by the then young talent, and today one of the most popular actors is Edward Norton, who superbly performed the very demanding role of the epileptic, neurotic Aron and deservedly received an Oscar nomination.

This film provides nothing spectacularly new. If you are a fan of crime thrillers, this is the right choice for you, while on the other hand the average viewer may remain unfulfilled due to the relatively boring and unnecessarily stretched parts of the film. In any case, I recommend him primarily because of the maestro Edward Norton, one of my favorite actors.