Review Covers DVD & Blu-Ray version Of The Movie
Cover Art and Menus: 9/10
The Hard Evidence Edition of Primal Fear was neatly packaged in a sealed evidence bag, complete with sticker and a warning that the movie “serves up twist after twist.” While I really liked the unique presentation, I am not sold on the “twist after twist” warning. It is refreshing to see a movie that was released in 1996 repackaged so nicely as is done here. The cover itself appears to contain evidence from the case, which is the primary focus on the legal drama, complete with photos of the two main characters. I really thought the presentation was nice.
The menus are a nice atmospheric mix of scenes from the movie, with a dramatic music overlay, and stills of religious and legal artifacts. Very nicely done, and it really matches the tone of the movie itself.
- Commentary by Director, Writer & Producer – The commentary track here features Director Gary Lucchesi, Writer Ann Biderman, Executive Producer Hawk Koch, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila. It is not a bad commentary, but it is not strong either. As witha film like this with such great acting, most of the focus in the commentary is on the performances of the actors. Overall not a snoozer commentary, but not one of my favorites either. I would rather have just watched the movie again without the commentary to be honest.
- Primal Fear The Final Verdict Featurette – This 18 minute feature includes modern interviews with some of the actors and people involved in making the film. It is kind of a making of, with interesting interviews with Edward Norton and Laura Linney (but not with Richard Gere). Pretty standard stuff, but a good watch.
- Primal Fear Star Witness Casting Edward Norton Featurette – My favorite extra, the Star Witness piece focuses on the casting of Edward Norton. Basically this was Norton’s first big break, and he earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Aaron Stampler. The feature is presented through interviews with Norton himself, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila. It is interesting to note that Leonardo DiCaprio was considered for the part that Norton nailed. This was a very interesting extra.
- The Psychology Of Guilt – This 11 minute long piece presents a history lesson on the insanity defense, as it has evolved in the legal system. It is interesting to watch, and not too incredibly long, so it won’t bore those not interested in legal mumbo jumbo.
- Theatrical Trailer – If you have read any of my other reviews, you will know that I am not a fan of calling the trailer an “extra,” so again, they have graciously included an advert for the movie for you to enjoy. Enough said.
The Movie: 9/10
I first saw Primal Fear about 12 or 13 years ago. I remember liking the movie, but not much about the actual story itself. It seemed to me at the time that Richard Gere, playing big shot attorney Martin Vail, was playing the same sort of character that he always played. Re watching the movie now, that still seems to be the case, but now I realize that he does that for a reason: he is good at it. Gere, along with Edward Norton as Aaron Stampler, showcase two excellent actors that seem to feed of each other when they share the screen. The result, luckily for us, is an excellent movie about a young boy accused of murdering a popular Chicago Archbishop in cold blood. Vail, a defense attorney who loves the spotlight and the money involved with high profile cases, agrees to represent Stampler, who is found fleeing from the Archbishop’s mansion, covered in the bishop’s blood. Vail agrees to take the case pro bono, and the rest of the movie revolves around finding out what took place, and how Vail is going to represent the boy who becomes labeled by the press as the “Butcher Boy.”
As an attorney now (I was not one the first time I watched this movie) I felt like they did a good job of presenting some of the issues that go into representing someone who has been accused of a crime. Part of the struggle for many attorneys is dealing with the idea that you might have to represent people that you feel or think may have actually done what they have been accused of, which can be a hard struggle. I liked the way that Primal Fear presented that struggle, by having Vail express his feelings in an interview with a reporter who is present throughout the film. Vail struggles with the ideals and is often shown pouring his heart out about the idea of being seen as someone who is fighting for the bad guy, often while drowning himself in alcohol. It is refreshing to see the portrayal of the cool as ice attorney ni the courtroom, struggling in private.
While Gere and Norton steal the show, the rest of the cast is very good also. Laura Linney plays Janet Venable, who is the prosecutor who is assigned the case, and told to seek the death penalty. She just happens to be the ex-girlfriend of Vail, and the two spar and flirt their way through the courtroom drama, playing each other as if this was a chess match. Overall most of the acting was really good and believable.
As the movie progresses, Vail is presented with a dark side of not only the Archbishop, but also his client, and the focus changes to Vail fighting to save the case and his reputation, as he deals with the toll that the case is taking on him personally. Overall Primal Fear is an excellent courtroom drama, and the story and the acting are brilliant. I remember liking this movie from the 1990’s, but I liked it even more now. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
Audio & Video: 7/10
I viewed the standard DVD release for Primal Fear: Hard Evidence Edition. The video was presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic wide screen format, and it looks very good. As with many of the movies from 1990’s, some of the shots seemed to be a bit fuzzy at times, but overall things were sharp and colorful, and looked very good. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, and while I don’t have the original DVD release to compare this edition to, I believe that this is the first wide screen presentation of the movie released, and it looked good.
The audio was good also, with most of the movie being dialogue driven. I did feel that the levels were a bit all over the place in spots. One scene would be a bit loud, and the next not so much, but it was clear and acceptable for the most part.
The Blu-Ray version looks great with deep blacks and the grain left intact, I know some people complain when they see a grainy noisy movie like this in HD but I say get over it, its supposed to be like that. Audio is better than the DVD release but only slightly but for such an old movie I can forgive that. Overall at the price it’s a great movie to have in your collection due to it being Edward Norton’s first movie.
I admit I am a lawyer, and the first time I saw this movie I was not. I really enjoyed this movie even after all of these years, and both the story and the performances were great. I recommend this as a rental at least. For any court room or Law and Order type of fan, this is a must see. While there are a few issues with legal movies like this (I can honestly say I have never run after and tackled a potential witness – leave that to the cops), overall this does a good job of presenting some of the drama that goes into presenting a case to a judge and jury. Primal Fear is just a good courtroom drama.
Overall Score 8/10