Primal Fear 1996 ★★★

.... Lacking in berserker apes.

The mythologisation of lawyers might have started, accidentally, with Atticus Finch, but it sure picked up pace in the 90s. The relentless drub drub drub of innocent or guilty, grand idealism and even grander speeches and "You can't handle the truth!". The hero usually had some sort of epiphany in the rain. Then along came 'Primal Fear', which sounds more like it should have something to do with mad monkeys.

Primal Fear, it's not ... it's not massively different, or a subversion and it doesn't have the punchy Sorkin dialogue of a Few Good Men. It's more or less just another courtroom drama with an inauspicious title and a dingy 90s palette masquerading as neo-noir. Richard Gere plays a semi-crusading lawyer who rediscovers his soul defending an altar boy; Edward Norton, playing the first of many tortured soul roles. There is a life, a potentially innocent, life on the line, and good ol' multiple personality disorder, and a grand theme of hypocrisy.

It gained slight notice at the time on the back of Norton's pitch perfect performance, and it's a shame that the praise was so limited because Laura Linney, Frances McDourmand, and even old avuncular Richard Gere are are top form. He twinkles and charms and "makes love to us all". You get the feeling there is some depth to these character despite the script's best efforts.

Over all the film is fine. It hasn't really aged well, but it's entertaining enough and looking back it's actually Gere who stands apart, albeit in a quiet corner, rather than Norton.

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