Primal Fear (1996) Review

A young man named Aaron who had been an altar boy is accused of murdering a priest but the truth might not be as simple as it first appears. Lawyer Martin Vail take son the case defending Aaron and will do everything to prove his innocence.


Martin Vail taking on the case puts him against Janet Venable who we find out they had previously worked together as well as having a relationship. This certainly makes some of the courtroom scenes even more tense and interesting as the pair go at it against one another. Everything seems very straight forward with the case as we see things in the same manner as Vail and just cannot imagine young shy stuttering Aaron to be capable of murder.

That is something that is truly important for the plot as a viewer as we are supposed to see and feel everything as Vail does. It works out in the best possible way as that is nailed on throughout the film, we agree with him and we root for Aaron being freed. Although when a video tape is found this gives very strong reason for murder and will not go well against him in court.

Bring in Molly for the psychological evaluation and she eventually discovers something about Aaron and the introduction of Roy. Something that Vail is not overly sure about until he also meets Roy. However within the case he cannot change the plea that had already been put in so he had to just go with it and attempt to draw it all out for the judge to then make a decision.

It raises plenty of interesting thoughts when it comes to someone being charged with murder and just how far they would go to not be found guilty. Even if that means completely changing everything about themselves and using a mental health issue to try and cover this up. Considering this film is from 1996 it still has plenty of different moments that we can think about today, especially given more research into different psychological areas.

Primal Fear is a fantastic film that has some outstanding acting performances as well as the film debut of Edward Norton who was Oscar nominated in a supporting role for his efforts. He was outstanding as Aaron/Roy and that is something that certainly carved the way for his career to go from strength to strength very quickly. Everything about his performance feels real and believable. Switching between the two and managing to come across as a shy is an impressive fate for an actor.

While that is only seen as a supporting role we have Richard Gere in the leading role and he is impressive. I often feel he isn’t given enough credit for how good his acting ability really is, but he gets to show it off in a film like this one. Although a little part of me does wonder if this court room lawyer showing at all helped him land the role of Billy Flynn in Chicago. In terms of female support we get amazing performances from both Laura Linney and Frances McDormand who excel in their roles as a lawyer and psychologist.

I have watched this a few times now and in all honesty always forget just what an impressive cast it has. A truly engaging courtroom drama which I always find myself lost within, it always seems to be just a great setting for films.

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