Primal Fear (Gregory Hoblit, 1996)
[originally posted 13Jul2000]
It amazes me that Hoblit could have turned in a film debut like this and gone on to make Fallen and Frequency, but then Savage Steve Holland made Better off Dead…, too.
Aaron Stampler, an altarboy (Edward Norton, in his first role), is found with the body of the head of the church at which he works, Archbishop Richard Rushman (Stanley Anderson). He protests his innocence and is believed by no one, but an ambulance-chasing lawyer named Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is willing to take his case. As time goes on, Vail becomes convinced of his client’s innocence.
Typical lawyer drama, like watching a two-hour episode of Law and Order—and it’s just as good. Edward Norton deservedly picked up a Best Supporting Actor nom. The chemistry between the defense team—Gere, Andre Braugher, and Maura Tierney—is wonderful. Frances MacDormand turns in her usual excellent performance as the defense’s psychiatrist. John Mahoney and Terry O’Quinn, as the hands behind the prosecutor’s back pulling the strings, are appropriately slimy characters.
And the ending… the ending compares with that of The Usual Suspects. Even if the rest of the movie were awful, it’d be worth renting simply for the ending. Watch and be amazed at how perfectly you were played. And then sit and wonder what happened to Gregory Hoblit. ****