Primal Fear – DVD Review
By Jeff Swindoll Mar 18, 2009, 16:48 GMT
A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney\'s career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the murder of a Chicago archbishop. Covered with blood, Aaron was captured after a foot chase broadcast live on TV, making a gleeful Vail ...more
Primal Fear is the film that put Edward Norton on the way to stardom. He has Leonardo DiCaprio dropping out to thank for that. However, the film also features a great performance from Richard Gere and other cast members, as well as a serpentine mystery.
Showboating, egotistical Chicago attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) takes on the case of Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton). Stampler is accused of brutally murdering the city’s Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson), but he professes that he loved and admired the victim and has instances of blackouts.
The trial begins and Vail finds that his ex-lover of his, Janet Venable (Laura Linney), is prosecuting. We also find out that the archbishop wasn’t exactly the pious man of God everyone thought he was. The puzzle of a case begins to unravel and Vail will find that his morals are the ones that are going to be more affected than he first believed.
Primal Fear is full of twists and turns and the less said about the plot the better. What you should know is that it is full of fantastic performances and is the performance that made Edward Norton a star.
It’s hard to talk about his performance without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that he plays both his parts well as the character is prone to have differing personalities. It would win the beginner an Oscar nomination. A big feat considering this was his first film.
Leonard DiCaprio was originally cast and dropped out of the film and this let Norton in the door. I hope he sends Leo a Christmas card every year. Gere also excels as the brash ambulance chaser and he will eventually have to rethink his way of lawyering by the end of the film thanks to a crisis of conscience, a trait which Vail thought he was lacking. It’s also a fantastic performance.
The remainder of the cast is littered with familiar, reliable actors – Laura Linney, Alfre Woodard, John Mahoney, Andre Braugher and Frances McDormand. The first time you may watch it for the resolution of the mystery, but if you return to the well it will be to savor the performances.
Primal Fear is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This new edition adds some special features (the original was bare bones) and comes in a custom packaging made to look like an evidence bag.
Special features include a commentary from director Gregory Hoblit, producers Gary Lucchesi and Hawk Koch, writer Ann Biderman, and casting director Deb Aquila. Next is the 18 minute “Primal Fear: The Final Verdict” that adds comments from Linney and Norton. Richard Gere doesn’t appear (gee, that rhymed). The 18 minute “Primal Fear: Star Witness” talks about how Norton was cast in the role. The 13 minute “Psychology of Guilt” talks with some psychologists about the insanity plea. Finally you get the 2 minute theatrical trailer and previews for other Paramount DVDs.
Primal Fear grips you with mystery but it will be the wonderful acting that you’ll remember. This new edition adds some new evidence in the form of a great look back at the film. Prepare to acquit the defendant with this release.