Back in 1996, the film Scream came out and gave us something we hadn’t really seen very often in the world of film: the art of the “twist.” It was shocking and soon after a plethora of films would incorporate climax swerves so that you never quite knew where the plot was headed. Lately that type of thing has become commonplace in horror flicks or thrillers, but it’s not strange to even see it in dramas or the occasional comedy. Little do people realize that eight months before the release of Scream and its wonderful twist, another film made its way to theaters with a twist that is far more shocking then any other I’ve seen in my life. (Up until that point in my life.)
And I’ve seen a hell of a lot of flicks.
Martin Veil (Richard Gere) is one of those attorneys that knows he is very good at what he does. He can win cases with his eyes closed and could pretty much get any criminal off on some sort of technicality or even proof. That is if he really wanted to. Vail is a very good lawyer, but he is more concerned with the popularity he gains from being a hotshot attorney and from getting his face on the front covers of magazines then he is with worrying about his clients. On the other side of the courtroom is Vail’s ex-lover, and a very good prosecutor, in Janet Venable (Laura Linney). They are both constantly at each others throats and always thinking they can outdo one another if placed on opposite sides of the same courtroom. Well, they’re about to get their wish in a case that has implications neither of them could have ever realized.
A young alter boy by the name of Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) is currently on trial due to the recent murder of the archbishop of Chicago. The case has been given attention from one coast to the next and that’s right up Vail’s alley because the attention is all he’s looking for, but soon that will change. Vail soon begins to realize that this open-and-shut case which will get him nationwide recognition has a lot more to it then anyone could have known. Stampler is obviously a very troubled young man that has a lot of issues to deal with and this murder may be the least of his worries. Vail starts ignoring the attention and focusing all of his energy on the case because it is obvious that there is much more to Stampler then anyone may understand.
Back when this film came out, Richard Gere was really the only well known actor in the whole bunch. Since then we have come to know Laura Linney for her wonderful roles in The Truman Show, Mystic River, and The Life of David Gale. Her true colors were already showing here in Primal Fear just by the great on-screen chemistry she has with Gere and by the way she handles herself when given such a serious and demanding role. Edward Norton had only had one small role before this film and Primal Fear is virtually what put him on the map and turned him into one of the greatest actors working today. This was the role that opened so many doors for him and made him one of those actors that women adore and it’s okay for men to have a man-crush on because he is just that cool.
Primal Fear is a great roller-coaster ride that will have your emotions mixed from the moment you first meet all those involved with the case to the final jaw-dropping moment. Martin Veil is a character you’re going to despise early on for his narcissistic ego and his insatiable appetite for attention but you’ll begin to side with later on when you see the struggles he goes through with Stampler. Now there is someone you’ll be torn between loving and hating throughout the duration of the film because you’re going to feel so bad for him but then you’ll be confused by him and then you’ll start to hate him but ultimately you want nothing but the best for him. The whole film is like that because it’s not one of those that you can just watch and have it all easily explained to you. You’re going to have to think and you’re going to need to use your brain to figure things out and keep it all in check or the end will arrive and leave you entirely confused and scratching your head. Keep up with it and understand it the whole time and you’re going to want to applaud when all is said and done.
The film is shown in 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and it is actually quite a bland presentation to be honest with you. The colors are rather drab and dull while nothing stands out as overly impressive. Rather disappointing.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and for a film that is virtually all dialogue and not much else, it more does the job. Primal Fear has some music and hardly any action at all so the surrounding speakers aren’t used much at all.
Audio Commentary – Sitting together for this track is director Gregory Hoblit, writer Ann Biderman, producer Gary Lucchesi, executive producer Hawk Koch, and casting director Deborah Aquila. I’m not too fond of commentaries that don’t actually include any of the talent from the film itself but Primal Fear is over thirteen years old so maybe they just couldn’t get anyone to come in for it. Anyway, this commentary track is just boring. For some reason there is just not much being said whatsoever from anyone and what is being said is quite tiresome.
Primal Fear: The Final Verdict – Do not watch this feature unless you have already seen the film or you will have the ending spoiled for you. The cast and crew mostly discuss the twist in the film and how Richard Gere took control of the film to make it as good as it is. It is a very good “behind the scenes” look at Primal Fear without actually showing any behind the scenes footage but just hearing from those involved as to how they thought it should be and how it turned out. (17:59)
Primal Fear: Star Witness – This feature goes into casting the perfect part for Aaron/Roy and after going through over two thousand people, Edward Norton was the only one who could do it correctly. Leonardo DiCaprio was in line for the role for a bit but he was exhausted from a previous project and couldn’t possibly do it. Watching the dissection of Aaron/Roy and how Norton and other members of the crew looked at the character is quite amazing because there is just so much that went into the part and everyone needed to agree that Norton was the right one. (17:56)
Psychology Of Guilt – Right off the bat this feature gets under my skin because an expert says that “the insanity case is not used that commonly,” and another one says only one percent of those in homicide cases use the insanity plea. I find that number hard to believe because it seems to be the plea almost half the time you hear about a murder case now. Experts, lawyers, and psychologists speak upon insanity and disorders that may come about as the reason that plea is used in court. (13:35)
Original Theatrical Trailer
My first viewing of Primal Fear was about five years ago and I must admit that the initial shock from the final twist lingered in my mind for days. That my friends is the making of a good film and it’s made even better by the whole thing being very entertaining as well. The problem with films like this is that the replayability just isn’t there. Once you knows what happens, everything playing up to the climax just doesn’t have the same affect. Obviously that’s the case here since this is the first time I’ve seen the film against since the first time. Either way, it’s a damn fine film on a Blu-ray disc that’s littered with a so-so selection of special features. The featurettes are highly informative and overly enjoyable but the audio commentary just drags down any entertainment value you get from the film. Let’s not forget that the video quality is not nearly up to the capabilities of a Blu-ray and it’s really bothersome and annoying because it’s just so noticeable. Love the film, but hate the way it was presented and I OBJECT to this Blu-ray! No you don’t. Yes, I do…how do you know I don’t? Because I’m you stupid! Oh yeah.
Paramount presents Primal Fear: Hard Evidence Edition. Directed by: Gregory Hoblit. Starring: Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand. Written by: William Diehl, Steve Shagan, & Ann Biederman. Running time: 130 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: March 10, 2009. Available at Amazon.com