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Yes, I know that Primal Fear opened two weeks ago but, honestly, it's been years since anything starring Richard Gere has been worth watching. Let alone paying the extra four bits that the local theater wants for it. But you can't ignore two weeks at Number One so here goes.....
As always, Cranky makes no comparison between the movie and it's Source Material, in this case the novel by William Diehl.
In Chicago, the brutal murder of a Roman Catholic Archbishop has been committed. A suspect named Aaron Stampler, a stuttering, shy country boy (Edward Norton) is quickly captured. It appears to be a pretty open and shut case. Martin Vail (Gere), a vainglorious media friendly defense attorney takes the case pro bono. Does he do it for the PR? You bet. For, when push comes to shove, he doesn't care if the defendant is innocent or not. His job is to defend. Period.
His investigation into the murder is aimed at trying to come up with a defense that will convince one juror ("it only takes one") to vote to acquit. As the story unfurls, we're confronted with numerous finger pointing leads. There's a Big Money Church investment gone bad. There's a potential scandal. There's another murder. There may be a third man, the real killer. One Mystery leads to another. The pacing of PF is such that you are constantly guessing and hypothesizing. When the crime is solved, you still have a good hunk of the movie left to see, as Gere works to bring the trial to a satisfactory conclusion. In addition, the Prosecutor is an old flame. Well, a one night stand says she. Must've been a good one, cuz Gere keeps coming back.
Primal Fear is a multi-layered, helluva story. It twists and turns and is terrifically acted out by all parties, headline and support. Especially of note is Edward Norton, as the accused killer. Even if you figure it all out, the movie delivers a wonderful sucker punch of a conclusion. It is satisfying to watch.
Gere delivers his best performance since An Officer and a Gentleman. (Yes, I liked Pretty Woman but) I mean it, it's been that long, in my opinion. On the support side are John Mahoney and Maura Tierny, both TV comedy actors showing terrific range, plus the return of Joe Spano (Hill Street Blues), now promoted to Captain <g>.
Spano's casting shouldn't be a surprise, for "first time" film director Gregory Hoblit has a shelf full of Emmys from his days producing Blues. He also has two directing Emmys and has pieced together a visually stimulating and well paced story. Every element across the board, story, acting, editing, music, direction; all are top notch. I wish I hadn't waited so long to tell you about it. Mea Culpa.
It cost Eight-And-A-Half Dollars for my ticket to Primal Fear. Cranky would have paid.
You should compare this rating against the old $8.00 watermark. Even there, Primal Fear is a one time viewing. The surprises that whack you as the ending comes down are such that I don't think that I could sit through the movie a second time, already knowing what is to come. But that first viewing had me riveted in my chair.
An adaptation this good almost cries out "Read the book! There's a lot more in there that didn't make the screen!"
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