Primal Fear 1996

If you have ever wondered where Edward Norton got his start, look no further. He rocketed to stardom following his portrayal of Aaron Stampler, a young man on trial for the murder of a catholic archbishop amid a a sexual abuse scandal. Norton displayed tremendous range and depth considering it was his first feature film. His character was at the center of plot and his role was the fulcrum point for audiences. Although his resume is now littered with critically acclaimed performances, I’d still lean towards this as one of his best and most iconic.

Norton was flanked in leading roles by outstanding performances from Richard Gere as flamboyant defense attorney Marvin Gail and Laura Linney as the very business like prosecutor Janet Venable. Gere and Linney played former lovers as well as competing attorneys and their chemistry onscreen is strong. His charisma and relaxed charm fits well with her intensity and wit. Gere actually turns in one of the best and most memorable performances of his career. Linney certainly showed her acting chops after the wonderfully bad Congo in 1995. John Mahoney, Frances McDormand and Alfre Woodard round out the stellar cast that aids an air of consummate professionalism.

Director Gregory Hoblit did a great job with the source material, a 1993 novel of the same name by William Diehl. Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman penned the screenplay, relying on intelligent and quick witted dialogue between the diverse cast. The film boasts a growing intensity that erupts right on cue. I don’t remember the score or production aspects of the film standing out especially but they blend together seamlessly and help deliver the core strength of the movie to the audience. Also, Deborah Aquila certainly deserves some credit as the casting agent who plucked Norton out of relative obscurity.

At the time of release, the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal was still relatively quiet in the eyes of the media. The story started to gain traction in the 80s but it wasn’t until The Boston Globe investigation in 2002 that the story became constant national news. Over the course of the next decade allegations would be levied against 3,000 priests, dating back fifty years. The 2015 film Spotlight would take the Academy Award for best picture and best original screenplay for dramatizing the accounts of the Boston Globe team.

If you haven’t seen Primal Fear, I’d highly recommend it. Make sure to keep checking back to see what else makes the cut.