A retired F.B.I. Agent with psychological gifts, is assigned to help track down "The Tooth Fairy", a mysterious serial killer. Aiding him, is imprisoned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.
Edward Norton was among 2,100 actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler. Matt Damon was among one of the other actors and would eventually play the role of Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan (1998) in which Edward Norton was considered. See more »
Martin tells Tommy "Aaron" should be in a psychiatric hospital not in jail, murder in the first degree sentences are sent to prison not jail. See more »
[while in Aaron's solitary confinement room]
I speak. You do not speak. Your job is to just sit there and look innocent.
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Primal Fear shows how good acting can sometimes outweigh problems in other areaslike logical loopholes large enough to sail a barge through, for example.
The characters in this movie are so good that such difficulties just don't seem to matter. They can make not completely unexpected plot twists seem like classic surprise shockers. They can make a murder mystery story weighed down with all kinds of extraneous baggage like city political corruption and church scandals seem to flow like butter. I'm talking about GOOD acting! From the major to the minor parts, and everywhere in between.
At center stage is defense lawyer Martin Vail (Gere) who will defend anyone of anything, especially if he stands to gain either financially or in TV exposure. So when a revered archbishop is brutally murdered, Vail offers his services to the frightened young man arrested for the crime. For free, no less. He knows this will be a sensational trial.
But it turns out to be even more sensational than either Vail or we expect. And that is mostly due to newcomer Norton. He plays the defendant, a stuttering, seemingly simple Kentucky boy in the big city who protests his innocence, in spite of being found running from the murder scene covered in blood.
Anyone who has liked Gere previously, even a little, will enjoy his performance here. But even those who don't particularly like him might be intrigued by Vail. He's slimy but intelligent, sexy yet occasionally vulnerable. It's the best role I've seen for him in a while (and I'm one of his fans).
But Norton is really something else. He's got the kind of talent that makes you hope you can say, some years from now: "Oh, yeah, I remember seeing his FIRST movie." That's actually the best reason for seeing Primal Fear, now that I think about it.
(Squeamish viewers might want to wait and see if his next film is less disturbing, though. Primal Fear includes some gory footage toward the beginning, and some disturbing sexual discussions, along with a pornographic "video" that is quite gross).
And those minor characters are worth mentioning, too. You won't believe how creepy John Mahoney ("Frasier's" funny dad) can be. Alfre Woodard is outstanding as the trial's judge. And Linney, although she's put in the trite situation of being Vail's former lover AND courtroom opponent, makes more of her character than you would expect.
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