The badly chosen title Primal Fear implies a horror film, but what we have is a professionally polished but thoroughly mediocre courtroom drama. An archbishop (Stanley Anderson) is brutally murdered. A blood-soaked altar boy (Edward Norton) is captured fleeing the residence. An egomaniacal attorney (Richard Gere) in love with the limelight takes the case pro-bono only to become convinced that for once in his life he's defending an innocent man.
If the film had been mostly Norton's it might've been better if still not very good, as the film gets interesting every time he's on screen but quickly flags as soon as the camera leaves him. And the cameraman alas is in love with Gere & doesn't want to show us all that much of Norton.
Gere is not an interesting actor, never has been, never will be, although he fits right in with this film's large support cast of television actors. For standard-issue leading lady love interest & prosecuting attorney we have Laura Linney (recurring girlfriend Charlotte on the television show Frasier) who invests her character with one trait only: She likes to light up cigarettes wherever smoking is not permitted. As the rich guy who lost millions due to the Archbishop belatedly siding with the poor against evil developers we have Frasier's dad, John Mahoney, who is merely the McGuffin.
As the courtroom drama's standard-issue-minority-in-the-cast judge we have Desparate Housewife Alfre Woodard. As the defense attorney's Paul Drake style private eye we have Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life in the Streets. As Della Street we get Maura Tierney of the prime time hospital soap E.R. The whole film can be viewed as a kind of puzzle for to "guess the television show" in which you've seen each uninteresting actor who passes through this turd.
As the psychiatrist who assesses the alleged killer as a multiple personality we have the only really good actor in the cast, Frances McDormand, but her main job is to look dewy eyed & be sufficiently naive that the one-trick-pony surprise ending will work.
Mainly the whole film start to finish has to be carried on Richard Gere's shoulders. His character is the only one written with any complexity, though mainly played in a state of misplaced cheerfulness. It's just so hard to care about any character played by Richard Gere. When he keeps trying to seduce the prosecuting attorney, they conjure up all the sparks of a wet towel humped by a Chinese crested hairless.
The "mystery" element or plot so-called is so simple that the whole movie could be spoiled by a single four-word sentence that gives it all away, so I'll refrain from speaking of the plot. The total effect of the film is of a so-so episode of a television series, law-office soap opera, like the overly earnest The Practice. It should've been just such an episode, one hour long including the commercials, but was stretched to a wolloping two hours. Two hours of Richard Gere is torture.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl