7.7/10
138,590
249 user 82 critic

Primal Fear (1996)

An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

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(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 10 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Dr. Molly Arrington
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Bud Yancy
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Tommy Goodman
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Joey Pinero
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Abel Stenner
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Martinez
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Archbishop Rushman
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Naomi Chance
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Alex
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Jack Connerman
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Storyline

Courtroom thriller about a slick, hotshot lawyer who takes the seemingly unwinnable case of a young altar boy accused of murdering an eminent catholic priest. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real. See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for brief grisly violence, pervasive strong language and a sex scene | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

Release Date:

3 April 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Iskonski strah  »

Box Office

Budget:

$30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$293,515 (USA) (26 July 1996)

Gross:

$56,059,267 (USA) (16 August 1996)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the role of Aaron/Roy. He would later go on to play a different DID patient in The Crowded Room. See more »

Goofs

Martin's cut over his right eyebrow appears and disappears. See more »

Quotes

Roy: [to Martin in a southern accent, while in the solitary confinement room] If you lay that tough-man shit on Aaron again, I will kick your fuckin' ass to Sunday!
See more »

Connections

Featured in 20 to 1: Hollywood Twists (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Incidental Source Music
by J. Peter Robinson
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User Reviews

Decent thriller that relies heavily on a solid cast.
10 October 2006 | by See all my reviews

Rating: ** 1/2 out of ****

Here's a film I remembered being a huge fan of back when I first saw it in theaters in '96. Seeing it again for the third time since, it doesn't quite live up to my fond memories. Aside from Edward Norton's scene-stealing performance as suspect Aaron Stampler, there's really not much about the film that separates it from most of the genre. The plot, concerning the murder of a beloved archbishop at the alleged hands of an innocent-looking altar boy and the eventual high-profile trial, is certainly rife with potential but is never executed beyond the level that's expected of a competent pulp thriller.

But credit should be given where it's due, especially the first hour of the film, which does a pretty solid job of setting up the film as an engrossing mix of murder mystery and courtroom drama. The performances are all solid, with Richard Gere providing yet another effective variation of the slick, cocky persona (this time as a "big-shot attorney") he's mastered and Laura Linney acting convincingly stressed out and aggravated by the understandably vexing situation her character's been placed in.

But with all the pieces in place in the first half, the film never quite results in the tight, suspenseful thriller we expect. The most noticeable problem is excess baggage, with the film too often straying from the case at hand and veering towards less interesting tangents. There's just too much chaff here, with subplots that include the romantic tension between Linney and Gere, the writer doing the article on Vail, and the housing development project that simply takes up too much of the movie's already overlong running time.

Equally problematic is a major plot twist halfway through which, while effective in its own right and allows the opportunity for Norton to stretch his considerable acting talent, ultimately lessens the speculative tension that these thrillers usually rely on. From that point on, most of the enjoyment is derived from Norton's performance, and though it's not quite the show-stopper I once considered it to be (probably doesn't help I just saw this flick after his absolutely incredible performance in American History X), it's still one of the better debut performances any actor has ever put forth.

It's with some relief that I can at least say the film saves its best scenes for last (the last three minutes are quite memorable), and definitely finishes things off on a high note. Primal Fear was directed by Gregory Hoblit, who's actually proved himself a pretty skillful filmmaker when it comes to crafting thrillers. This one's merely competent, no more and no less.


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