This week at BMAF HQ, we watched, via Netflix, the 1996 courtroom drama Primal Fear, based on the book by William Diehl.
The Film follows Richard Gere as a seemingly unbeatable hotshot lawyer, Martin Vail.
When an archbishop is brutally murdered, an altar boy is arrested after fleeing from the crime scene. All evidence would appear to show he is the guilty party.
The altar boy, named Aaron (played by Edward Norton in his motion picture debut, made even more impressive that he got an Oscar nomination for this role) appears to be heading for death row, until Martin steps in.
Now we know from the start of the film, Martin, does not really care if the client is guilty or not guilty, as we find from the opening when we learn he has defended a local mobster, Joey Pinero (Steven Bauer)
Because of this, we believe Martin has taken the case for the attention, as he has been talking to Jack Connerman, (Reg Rogers) a journalist, who wants him to be his front page story.
In our first meeting of Martin and Aaron, it would appear that there could be another suspect. Aaron appears to be very shy, with a stutter and certainly not a ruthless person who could kill an archbishop by stabbing them 78 times!
Aaron claims a third person was in the room, but he can not remember any more as he blacked out. Martin appears to believe him and takes the case on pro bono.
An added incentive is he will be up against the corrupt state attorney Shaughnessy (John Mahoney) who has got his top prosecutor Janet Venable (Laura Linney) on the case.
This adds to the story as know she and Martin have had a brief affair, something seemingly that Martin would like to reignite.
The film really does an excellent job of making you not know who did it. An example is when Martin’s investigator Tommy (Andre Braugher) finds another altar boy, who makes a run for it and you immediately think he could be a suspect.
We know from background checks that the Archbishop and State Attorney have been involved in some shady property deals worth millions, so they could also be suspects.
You also believe Aaron may be defending his girlfriend, who has disappeared.
And of course we do have to suspect Aaron as well. Even though from appearances this seems impossible.
Martin brings in Dr. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand) to assess Aaron for his state of mind and bring validity to his black out claims. During an intense questioning he snaps and changes mood, to a much more aggressive person called Roy.
During this time, a tape has been found, of Aaron being involved in a sex tape with his girlfriend and another alter boy for the Archbishop’s pleasure.
After a chilling confrontation between Martin and Aaron, when the tape is brought up, Roy completely takes over. Roy, admits to killing the Archbishop because Aaron simply wasn’t man enough to the task.
However, Martin who is already involved in the trial, can not bring this information into court, as an insanity plea will be ignored. He needs to get Roy out on the stand, in front of the judge (Alfre Woodard)
As Janet puts Aaron under intense interrogation about the sex tape, will Roy come out on the stand and change the case completely? If he does not then surely Aaron will face the death penalty.
Also with the multiple personalities, are we even sure Roy is the killer? All these questions will be answered if you add Primal Fear to your viewing.
This could have been a run of the mill court room drama but for excellent performances from the cast. Ed Norton, gives a stunning film debut, with a memorable performance that he would follow with other great roles in American History X, Fight Club and more recently Birdman.
Gere, more known for being a love interest in films such as Prety Woman, is great as Martin and Laura Linney proves to be a worthy opponent to him.
The story does stand up, even if the TV sets and computers of the film have aged. It was also great seeing Andre as the private investigator , as I now tune into him regularly as Captain Holt in TV’s Brooklyn Nine Nine. John Mahoney, probably best known for playing TV’s Frasier Crane’s loveable dad, Martin is also excellent as playing the shady state attorney.
It was also great seeing Andre as the private investigator , as I now tune into him regularly as Captain Holt in TV’s Brooklyn Nine Nine.
John Mahoney, probably best known for playing TV’s Frasier Crane’s loveable dad, Martin is also excellent as playing the shady state attorney.
Other familiar faces in the film, more known for their TV work include Terry O’Quinn (TV’s Lost) ; Maura Tierney (TV’s ER) Joe Spano (NCIS) and Tony Plana (Dad to TV’s Ugly Betty)
It was also especially good, having seen the film before, watching with someone who hadn’t and see them try and figure out who was the guilty party
If you have never seen this film, its well worth a watch, you can currently find it on Netflix UK or buy it from Amazon here: http://amzn.to/1TxTfy9
What is your favourite court room drama? What are your favourite Gere and Norton roles? As always, we would love to hear from you here at barking mad about films
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