Primal Fear (1996)

A densely plotted, poorly paced adaptation of the William Diehl 
best seller, PRIMAL FEAR does have *one* thing going for it:  the 
cast is *very* handsome.  Richard Gere, in one of his good roles, 
as a high-profile Chicago defense attorney; Laura Linney (CONGO) as 
the prosecutor he once dated; Andre Braugher (TV's "Homicide") as 
his investigative assistant; John Mahoney as the state attorney he 
antagonizes; and the list goes on.

They all meet in court, after the brutal murder of the city's 
beloved archbishop yields a single suspect:  a soft-spoken altar 
boy (played with surprising conviction by newcomer Edward Norton  
Hey Ralph!).  Despite a few faces that don't register-- neither 
Frances McDormand's psychiatrist nor Alfre Woodard's no-nonsense 
judge make an impression-- it's fun to watch so many good actors 
knock-around on screen.  Too bad that award-winning television 
director Gregory Hoblit doesn't know where to go with it.

As a potboiler thriller-- or, even, as a decent courtroom drama-- 
PRIMAL FEAR is just too slow.  Despite an enormous amount of 
plotting, the film lacks any real sense of urgency.  Very few 
scenes *move*.  (You may even fall asleep!)  And, as a character 
study, PRIMAL FEAR is just too murky.  Gere's character is a 
fantastic creation:  a hotshot lawyer with principals and, ah, 
convictions.  The problem is that we're never shown how the events 
in the film affect *him*.  Instead of, say, a coda that indicates 
growth, change, or awareness, all we get are a few closing shots of 
him outdoors, standing alone.  What's the point?  (Rated "R"/126 

Grade: C+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: March 7, 1996

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