Martin Vail likes a challenge in proving that the ones the public wants to throw to the court as guilty are truly innocent. When he catches the news that an altar boy, Aaron, has been accused of murdering a priest he goes to take the case even though he knows he will be doing it at no expense except for his own gratification of winning. With the help of his team, and Molly, a psychologist, he hopes to show the jury his innocent. His old rivals at another firm though hope to put up a strong fight, including Janet his ex-lover, as the prosecutors.
What brings Primal Fear to life is the acting even though Richard Gere is sort of usual arrogant guy he is. It's sort like he walked out of Pretty Woman, and now we are seeing what the guy who hires the prostitute really does a living. Gere does what he does best though. The heart of this movie really centers on the change that Martin (Richard Gere) makes through the movie. At least the change he has toward human beings, while this is brilliant, it takes a lot of thinking to really appreciate it afterward, because ultimately you have to delve into the darkest of where humans go to prove a point to his character.
Edward Norton shows he is a good actor as Aaron in this even as a younger guy who was just getting started in film. He knows how to show many colors even in one movie. Norton can make himself likable one minute, and very unlikable the next. There is also Laura Linney as Janet who you want to like, but feel conflicted about at times mostly because of some of the statements she makes. You forget that she has probably been badly hurt by Martin causing her to become the very cold person we're seeing in the movie. Hoblit seems to forget that viewers aren't watching a television show though, and that maybe we would like to see more detail regarding that.
The biggest desire though is that this movie should have spent more time in the courtroom. There are a few spots where Martin is sitting in the bar talking to people, and instead you would rather see him hashing those ideas out in court. The moments where they are in the courtroom are some of the most intense of the movie. It catches you from the beginning, and you never feel where the movie is going, and just when you think you do it catches you off guard again. It is quite good in that regard. There is a part at the end though that leaves what would be you think a lot of holes in the plot that were filled in by what we thought was happening though. While it is a great twist, it seems off the radar of what we were really building up to.
Primal Fear has some of the greatest courtroom scenes that bring you back to movies like Anatomy of a Murder. The ending may leave you gripping for some sort of hope that you like to find in a movie, but this isn't one that likes to sugarcoat the realities that sometimes play out within humans that we like to fight for. This makes it a standout, but also something quite painful to wear for the next few days in thought. You care about the characters though, and you feel just as disappointed as they end up being.
Rating 4 of 5.