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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Primal Fear (1996)



Reviews and Comments

This murder mystery transcends its genre on two points: one, a stunning performance by Edward Norton; two, a moral awareness of the characters. In most genre flicks (excluding the best westerns), characters simply do what the plot needs them to do. This is true of Primal Fear as well, but the characters at least think about what they're doing and why. The big shot lawyer (his words) who defends an altar boy accused of the crime makes it a rule never to ask his clients if they did what they are accused of doing. He doesn't care and considers it irrelevant to his job. But there's a moral sense buried in there somewhere, and at some point, surely the human need for right and justice must surface and upset his system.

In the course of the investigation, some pretty unsettling things surface, so I wouldn't recommend the film to all Agatha Christie or Perry Mason fans, but if you're prepared for some disturbing material, this is a skillful and accomplished mystery thriller worth seeing.