Primal Fear (film)

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Primal Fear
Primal Fear.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGregory Hoblit
Produced byGary Lucchesi
Howard W. Koch, Jr.
Screenplay bySteve Shagan
Ann Biderman
Based onPrimal Fear 
by William Diehl
StarringRichard Gere
Laura Linney
John Mahoney
Alfre Woodard
Frances McDormand
Edward Norton
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byDavid Rosenbloom
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 3, 1996 (1996-04-03)
Running time130 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million
Box office$102,616,183[1]
 
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Primal Fear
Primal Fear.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGregory Hoblit
Produced byGary Lucchesi
Howard W. Koch, Jr.
Screenplay bySteve Shagan
Ann Biderman
Based onPrimal Fear 
by William Diehl
StarringRichard Gere
Laura Linney
John Mahoney
Alfre Woodard
Frances McDormand
Edward Norton
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byDavid Rosenbloom
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 3, 1996 (1996-04-03)
Running time130 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$30 million
Box office$102,616,183[1]

Primal Fear is a 1996 American neo-noir[citation needed] crime-thriller film directed by Gregory Hoblit (in his directorial debut) and starring Richard Gere, Edward Norton (in his film debut) and Laura Linney. The film tells the story of a defense attorney, Martin Vail (Gere) who defends an altar boy, Aaron Stampler (Norton), charged with the murder of a Catholic archbishop and his ensuing case against prosecutor Janet Venable (Linney). The film is an adaptation of William Diehl's 1993 novel of the same name. Norton's role in the film received multiple accolades, including a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Plot[edit]

Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a prominent Chicago defense attorney who loves the public spotlight and does everything he can to get his high-paying clients acquitted on legal technicalities. One day, Vail sees a news report about the arrest of Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a young altar boy from Kentucky with a severe stutter, who is accused of brutally murdering the beloved Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson). Vail jumps at the chance to represent the young man pro bono.

At first, Vail is interested primarily in the publicity that the case will bring. During his meetings at the county jail with Aaron, however, Vail comes to believe that his client is truly innocent, much to the chagrin of the prosecutor (and Vail's former lover), Janet Venable (Laura Linney).

As the murder trial begins, Vail discovers that powerful civic leaders, including the corrupt State's attorney John Shaughnessy (John Mahoney), have lost millions of dollars in real estate investments due to a decision by the Archbishop not to develop on certain church lands. The Archbishop received numerous death threats as a result. Vail makes a search of the Archbishop's apartment and finds a videotape of Stampler being forced to perform in a sexual act with another altar boy and a girl named Linda (Azalea Davila). Vail is now in a bind: Introducing this evidence would make Stampler more sympathetic to the jury, but it would also give his client a motive for the murder, which Venable has been unable to establish.

When Vail confronts his client and accuses him of having lied, Stampler breaks down crying and suddenly transforms into a new persona: a violent sociopath who calls himself "Roy". "Roy" confesses to the murder of the Archbishop, and throws Vail against a wall of his jail cell. When this incident is over, Aaron's personality re-emerges and appears to have no recollection of the personality switch. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand), the psychiatrist examining Aaron, is convinced that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder caused by years of abuse at the hands of his father. Vail does not want to hear this, because he knows that he cannot enter an insanity plea during an ongoing trial.

Vail sets up a confrontation in court by dropping hints about the Archbishop's pedophilia, as well as Stampler's multiple personalities. He also has the sex tape delivered to Venable, knowing she will realize who sent it and—since she is under intense pressure from both Shaughnessy and her boss Bud Yancy (Terry O'Quinn) to deliver a guilty verdict—will use it as proof of motive.

At the climax, Vail puts Stampler on the witness stand and gently questions him about his troubled dealings with the Archbishop and all about the sexual abuse that the Archbishop put him through. During cross-examination, after Venable questions him harshly for several minutes, Stampler turns into "Roy" in open court and attacks her, threatening to snap her neck if anyone comes near him. He is subdued by courthouse marshals and rushed back to his holding cell.

The judge (Alfre Woodard) dismisses the jury in favor of a bench trial and then finds Stampler not guilty by reason of insanity, remanding him to a maximum security mental hospital. Venable is fired for allowing the Archbishop's crimes, which both the Catholic Church and the city council had been trying to hide for the past 10 years, to come to public light.

In the final scene, Vail visits Stampler in his cell to tell him of the dismissal. Stampler says he recalls nothing of what happened in the courtroom, having again "lost time". However, just as Vail is leaving, Stampler asks him to "tell Miss Venable I hope her neck is okay," which he could not have been able to remember if he had "lost time". When Vail confronts him, Stampler reveals that he has been pretending to be insane the whole time. No longer stuttering, he brags about having murdered Archbishop Rushman for the sexual abuse inflicted upon him, as well as Linda. When Vail says, "So there never was a Roy," Stampler corrects him and says, "There never was an Aaron, counselor!" Stunned and disillusioned at how he was so easily fooled and manipulated by his own client, Vail walks away with Stampler taunting him from his cell.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Primal Fear garnered positive reviews from critics and has a 74% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 43 reviews with an average score of 6.7 out of 10. The consensus states "A straightforward, entertaining thriller with a crackerjack performance by Edward Norton".[2] According to Janet Maslin, the film has a "good deal of surface charm", but that the film is "pared down to a farfetched plot and paper-thin motives, [while] the story relies on an overload of tangential subplots to keep it looking busy."[3] Roger Ebert wrote "the plot is as good as crime procedurals get, but the movie is really better than its plot because of the three-dimensional characters," awarding it three-and-a-half stars.

The film spent three weekends at the top of the U.S. box office.

Primal Fear inspired the 2002 Bollywood movie Deewangee.[citation needed]

Accolades[edit]

Edward Norton's depiction of Aaron Stampler garnered him multiple awards and nominations.

AwardCategoryNominee(s)Result
Academy AwardBest Supporting ActorEdward NortonNominated
American Society of Composers, Authors and PublishersTop Box Office FilmsJames Newton HowardWon
Boston Society of Film CriticsBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
Edward NortonWon
British Academy Film AwardsBest Actor in a Supporting RoleNominated
Casting Society of AmericaBest Casting for Feature Film, DramaDeborah Aquila
Jane Shannon-Smith
Nominated
Chicago Film Critics AssociationBest Supporting ActorEdward NortonNominated
Most Promising Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
Won
Florida Film Critics CircleBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
Won
Golden Globe AwardBest Supporting Actor - Motion PictureWon
Kansas City Film Critics CircleBest Supporting ActorWon
Los Angeles Film Critics AssociationBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
Won
MTV Movie AwardsBest VillainNominated
National Society of Film CriticsBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
3rd place
Satellite AwardBest DVD ExtrasPrimal Fear - Hard Evidence EditionNominated
Saturn AwardBest Supporting ActorEdward NortonNominated
Society of Texas Film Critics AwardsBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt)
Won
Southeastern Film Critics AssociationBest Supporting Actor
(also for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Everyone Says I Love You)
Won

American Film Institute recognition:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]