Rather predictable thriller with some good acting, and a couple of interesting moments. Richard Gere is Martin Vail, a publicity-hungry high-profile Chicago lawyer. When an altar boy, Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), is accused of the brutal murder of an archbishop in what seems an open-and-shut case, Vail is determined to defend Aaron. Unfortunately, this pits him against his old girlfriend, now prosecutor. And worst of all, Vail begins to come to conclusions regarding his client’s guilt or innocence. For the most part, Primal Fear is above average courtroom fare. Gere does a good job as the attention loving attorney, but is outshined by newcomer Norton as the stuttering Southern boy accused of a crime that seems beyond him. There are several good actors tossed into various supporting roles (including Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand, and John Mahoney), but none are quite as memorable. The plot, adapted from William Diehl’s novel, is adequate, but it relies too heavily on courtroom cliches and a couple of all-too predictable plot twists. The film loses its way several times (especially when focusing on Vail’s relationship with a possible crime boss), but the two key performances pull this film slightly above the average.
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