March 1, 2009 by  

Well-written, well-acted and a film that is a definitive example of ‘shocking ending’.  Edward Norton’s first film is literally a grand slam out of the ballpark.  ‘PRIMAL FEAR’ is just a fantastic film with many surprises and twists.  Highly recommended!”

Images courtesy of ©Paramount Home Entertainment


DURATION: 130 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: English SDH Subtitled, English Subtitled, French Dubbed & Subtitled, Portuguese Subtitled.  Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD

RATED: R (For Brief Grisly Violence, Pervasive Strong Language and a Sex Scene)

COMPANY: Paramount

RELEASE DATE: March 10, 2009

Directed by Gregory Hoblit

Based on a Novel by William Diehl

Screenplay by Steve Shagan and Ann Biederman

Produced by Gary Lucchesi

Executive Producer: Howard W. Koch, Jr.

Director of Photography: Michael Chapman

Music by James Newton Howard

Film Editor: David Rosenbloom, A.C.E.

Production Designer: Jeannine Oppewall


Richard Gere as Martin Vail

Laura Linney as Janet Venable

John Mahoney as Shaughnessy

Alfre Woodard as Judge Shoat

Frances McDormand as Molly Arrington

Edward Norton as Aaron Stampler

Terry O’Quinn as Yancy

Andre Braugher as Goodman

Steven Bauer as Pinero

Joey Spano as Stenner

Maura Tierney as Naomi

A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney’s career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the murder of a Chicago archbishop. Covered with blood, Aaron was captured after a foot chase broadcast live on TV, making a gleeful Vail certain that he could raise his profile by defending the obviously guilty suspect. Assigned to prosecute is Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who is Vail’s ex-girlfriend. Vail’s case becomes more complicated than he expected when a psychologist, Dr. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand) concludes that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder. Vail also uncovers evidence that the archbishop was involved in a corrupt land scheme and may have molested young parishioners. Now the cynical, opportunistic attorney is faced with a daunting prospect, a client who may actually deserve his best defense. Its shocking, twist ending made Primal Fear (1996) a big box office hit and earned Norton, in his screen debut, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

A well-written and well-acted film that is a perfect example of a film with a shocking twist.  The film features the first major film role for unknown actor (at that time) Edward Norton and quite literally, he nailed his role and literally hit a grand slam out of the park.  That is how terrific his acting was and made him one of the most highly sought after actors today.

The context of this film has its correlation with the O.J. Simpson trial and the use of top defense lawyers.  Known for their style, using the media to their advantage and quite literally, using that media spotlight to better their name throughout the country and the world.  But it’s an adaption of William Diehl’s 1993 novel and a film in which Edward Norton would be nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor”.

This film revolves around defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere), a brilliant and a very confident lawyer in Chicago.  He is attending a party for an archbishop and while at the party, he runs into an old flame.   You learn that Martin Vail is a cocky defense attorney and has had a brief relationship for several months with lawyer Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who sees their former relationship as one big “one night stand”.

The following day, Vail is being interviewed by a reporter for his willingness to take cases that most people wouldn’t take and quite literally get the people he represents an acquittal. Especially his confidence in taking these cases.  You learn from Vail that he does what he does is because their are bad people who do bad things but there are good people who do bad things.  He believes that there are good in people and thus he became a defense lawyer.

While being interviewed, he watches a story unfold on the news  about a man on the run for the murder of an archbishop.  An archbishop that Vail just met at a party just the other day.  Of course, because of the high profile case, Vail knows that it would be a case that he can really take advantage of and knows what kind of publicity this can bring to him and his practice.

He goes to meet with this man accused for murder named Aaron (Edward Norton) who is an altar boy for the archbishop and looks up to him.  He tells Vail that he was just there to return a book and saw the archbishop lying down bleeding with a third person standing over him.  But then he suddenly he lost consciousness and when he woke up, he was fully covered with blood.

Because he was scared, he took of running and then he was a wanted man.  He claims his innocence and Vail couldn’t care less about what Aaron has to say but just giving him rules to not talk to anyone but him.

As he prepares to represent Aaron, he realizes that his former flame Janet will be handling the prosecution against his client.   But as his firm is investigating this “third man” that Aaron saw and assuming this third person is responsible for the murder, new evidence comes out that throws another twist in the trial against Aaron.

It is learned that the archbishop has been using his altar boys to commit sexual acts on a female and vice versa and that the archbishop has recorded a tape of it.  Meanwhile, a psychiatrist named Molly Arrington (played by Francis McDormand) is meeting with Aaron and recording him.  And it is learned that Aaron is suffering from multiple personality disorder.  When Aaron is blacking out, that is when this other person named Roy comes out.   Vail learns about Aaron’s disorder and learns that Roy is completely opposite of Aaron.  Roy is very forceful, very arrogant and evil and admits murdering the archbishop.  He shocks Vail because Aaron who is quiet, scared and always stuttering just manhandles is so different when he is Roy.  Roy throws Vail to the wall and even cuts him in his eye brow when Vail tried to provoke him in regards to the details of the tape and the murder.

But despite how bad Roy is, both Vail and Aarington know that the killer was not Aaron, it was Roy.  Aaron doesn’t deserve to be in death row and he needs medical help.

Unfortunately, because he finds out about this other personality of Aaron and the trial is ongoing, it’s too late to pleade insanity and thus Vail must find a way to defend his client.

“PRIMAL FEAR” is full of twists and turns but nothing prepares you for the shocking ending.  And everything in the film works because of Edward Norton’s performance.  How he is able to switch from Aaron to Roy, two completely different individuals.  One which is scared, timid and shy and othe other just full of rage and is explosive.

But what makes this film so memorable is just to see how this confident defense laywer is transformed from beginning to end.  Again, full of twists and turns with a shocking ending.


“PRIMAL FEAR” is a film from 1996 that makes its Blu-ray debut in 1080p High Definition and English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD.

I typically get nitpicky on films created in the early and mid-90’s that are released in Blu-ray because despite looking cleaned up and pristine, their tends to be a softness towards the video quality and less sharpness.  “PRIMAL FEAR” for a mid-90’s film actually looks great on Blu-ray and was quite pleased with the picture quality. There are a lot of blacks in the film and I saw no artifacts.

As for the audio, the audio is primarily a dialogue-based film.  There is a murder scene and there is a chase scene but the film is a dialogue film and all about the well-acted performances by Gere, Norton and Linney.  From facial emotions, eye contact and behaviors, there are no major special effects utilizing rear sound channels.  But for the front channels, audio comes out quite clear.


There are a few awesome special features included in the “PRIMAL FEAR: HARD EVIDENCE EDITION”.

  • AUDIO COMMENTARY –   Commentary by Director Gregory Hoblit, Writer Ann Biderman, Producer Gary Lucchesi, Executive Producer Hawk Koch, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila.  The audio commentary is so interesting because what a lot of people many not know was how difficult it was for casting director Deborah Aquila to find the right person to play the part of Aaron.  Leonardo DiCaprio was the person who was supposed to play the part but backed out and thus an exhaustive effort to find Aaron began and Edward Norton eventually became the man.  Also, you learn about how Gere stayed on board thanks to seeing writer Ann Biderman at the restaurant where Gere, Hoblit and a few staff were meeting at.  You learn a lot about the film and certain scenes and reactions to Norton and Gere’s interaction.  Really good commentary.
  • Primal Fear: The Final Verdict – A 2009 17-minute featurette with interviews with cast and crew and their involvement in the film.  How the film was well-received, made good money but also help jump start several careers since it took a risk of using two unknowns (Laura Linney and Edward Norton).  Really good insight of how the film has had its major challenges and how even Gere was about to pull out of the film until some changes were made.  Also, the fear by Gere and also the movie studios of using unknown names and not bringing out any major heavy hitters to support Gere’s role.   In the end, the studio made the right decision to give both Linney and Norton the thumbs up and both talents are now award winning talent.  Both talents have shown their appreciation to the cast and crew for giving them their first major opportunity to be in a major film.  Very entertaining featurette.
  • Primal Fear: Star Witness – This 17-minute featurette (2009) features Casting Director Deborah Aquila, Director Gregory Hoblit, Writer Ann Biderman, Producer Gary Lucchesi and Executive Producer Hawk Koch and Edward Norton.  This featurette is about how Edward Norton was found for this role and how many call backs and tests he had to endure to get this part and how challenging it was because he was an unknown and the studio was very worried to invest to much in a film with Gere having to act with someone who has not appeared in anything major.  With Leonardo DiCapprio originally casted for the role of Aaron, when DiCapprio pulled out, Edward Norton became a blessing.  Really good insight on Norton’s experience especially how he looked at each call back as a way to pay the bills and while in Southern California, he had to sleep on a couch of a friend he stayed with.  Very informative and entertaining.
  • Psychology of Guilt – This segment deals primarily with multiple personality disorders used in a trial.  Those who used it in the past and why it’s not used so much anymore and how the rule for those pleading insanity has changed since President Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt.
  • Theatrical Trailer – This featurette is the same original theatrical trailer in the 1998 DVD release.

I enjoyed “PRIMAL FEAR” when it first came out to theaters because of that shocking twist at the end.  It was something I was not expecting and it became a film that was so talked about because of how the film ended.

Watching the film again 13-years-later, the film is just as entertaining now as it was back then.

The Blu-ray Disc edition looks quite beautiful.  Very good picture quality and for a mid-90’s film, with so many 90’s film looking a bit soft, “PRIMAL FEAR” actually looks very good.

But what I enjoyed outside of the film being presented in 1080P High Definition and Dolby TrueHD is watching the special features and hearing the original crew coming back together to talk about their experiences.  But also to see both Laura Linney and Edward Norton so grateful for the film and the crew because they took their chance on two relatively unknowns in the industry and jumpstarted their career.  And since then, these two talents have been nominated and won a number of awards.

You really learn about how challenging this film was for the cast and crew, I literally had no idea how difficult things were behind-the-scenes until I saw these featurettes and now, I can’t help but be proud for the crew for sticking to their guns because “PRIMAL FEAR” is just an amazing film.

“PRIMAL FEAR: HARD EVIDENCE EDITION” is a solid release.  For those who enjoyed the film when it first came out back in 1996 will truly love this Blu-ray release of the film.  Definitely worth checking out!

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