The 1980’s and 1990’s had a lot of thrillers and court dramas with the most generic names: Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Impulse, Bad Influence, Primal Fear. Some of it was just how these films were marketed, but also a few were based on books with the same name. Primal Fear was one of them. The best selling novel by William Diehl was released in 1993 and only three years later, the movie appeared starring Richard Gere, a top draw of the decade. Also in a smaller but pivotal role was Francis McDormand. But the surprise was an unknown named Ed Norton who went on to play a role that brought him an Oscar nomination.
The film: When the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago is murdered, everything points to a young man, Aaron Stampler (Ed Norton). Attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) decides to defend him pro bono. It will allow him to get publicity but also cause havoc to his enemies in the political establishment. As the case looms, and dirty laundry of Chicago high-ups begins to emerge, Martin is shocked in his own belief that Stampler may actually not be guilty after all.
The film received strong reviews in its initial release and immediately made Ed Norton a superstar. For the thriller genre, the movie did excellent box office and remains somewhat of a hidden gem. Joined by author M.J. Preston, Dark Discussions reviews the film, considers its history in cinema, and presents points and counterpoints in whether the film still holds up.