Primal Fear (1996) - Hard Evidence Edition

Genre(s): Crime / Drama
Paramount || R - 130 minutes - $14.98 || March 10, 2009
Reviewer: Tyler Thomas || Posted On: 2009-03-09

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.

.:: A U D I O ::.

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writer(s): William Diehl (novel); Steve Shagan & Ann Biderman (screenplay)
Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Edward Norton, Andre Braugher

Theatrical Release Date: April 3, 1996

Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • 3 Featurettes
  • Theatrical Trailer

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a boisterous attorney who may bend the rules of the law just a little bit to win his cases. One day a priest is murdered and the suspect is an altar boy of his named Aaron (Edward Norton) is seen being chased on the news by the police. Aaron is drenched in blood and is found cowering underneath the railroad tracks crying. Vail, after seeing this in a local bar, chooses to take Aarons case pro-bono (which means for free, no charge to the defendant. I took a law class once. A few years ago) to help him out to prove heís not that cold and heartless.

Well, sort of. He also takes the case because heís a media attention craving person, and since this is the biggest case of the decade, it will give him tons of press coverage. Vail visits Aaron in prison to ask him his side of the story, and the completely innocent prisoner that he is, Aaron says he has no idea what happened or why he was drenched in the priestís blood. Janet Venable (Laura Linney) is the prosecutor for the case, and also apparently an ex or something along those lines of Vailís, which doesnít help him out in the least throughout the trial.

At the first part of the trial, Vail instructs his client that he is to plead not guilty and gets into it with Aaron because heís saying what he shouldnít be saying. In the meantime, Vailís associate Goodman (Andre Braugher) is on a mission to find out more about the client, and is sent to his room. He is attacked for some reason by Alex, another one of the altar boys from the church, and Vail questions Aaron about why he did so. In true client fashion, he doesnít know why or is lying about it. Personally, Iíd go with the second option but thatís just me.

As more information gathers, it turns out there may have been more than two people in the room and Vail thinks that maybe Aaron is suffering from sort of amnesia. He asks a psychiatrist for help, as though he thinks that something is amiss in this case. But things turn out worse for his client as the trial progresses when witnesses testify that the priest was murdered odds are by a left-handed man of which Aaron is. During all of this, the psychiatrist interviews Aaron while heís in prison and accidentally triggers a side of him that no one knew existed. Is it possible that there is something wrong with Aaron? Did he really not commit the crime?

Even though Iím not usually a fan of older films, I happened to enjoy this one rather thoroughly. The plot is entertaining, the characters are great, and the acting is incredible. Norton gives (and if you listen to the commentary thatís all youíll hear) one of his best performances to date in his role of Aaron, and Gere is also wonderful as Vail. This is probably one of the best movies from the 90s, and deserves to be seen for those who havenít seen it.

My only complaint is that I think a little bit more could have been done to Aaron or Vailís background. It just seems like thereís not enough information given in the run time (130 minutes) that could have been a bit bigger. Thatís it though, as I enjoyed this film and Iím betting you will too.


Audio Commentary by Gregory Hoblit, Ann Biderman, Gary Lucchesi, Hawk Koch, and Deborah Aquila: Iím not a fan of more than three people in a commentary, and this furthers my opinion about why there shouldnít be this many on one at once. They donít talk over each other, but they do interrupt one another at various points and throw one another off course. Some of the information they talk about (which mainly deals with praising Edward Norton and Richard Gere) can be found in the special features below.

The Final Verdict (18 minutes): The cast and crew discuss the film and the script. They also discuss a lot about the movie and the differences between the movie and real life. Itís actually pretty interesting, so check this out if you get some free time.

Star Witness (18 minutes): This is basically a special feature dedicated to Edward Norton and his character. It also talks about Leonardo DiCaprioís possible involvement that didnít happen (this is also discussed in the commentary for the film as well).

Psychology of Guilt (14 minutes): A discussion of the plea of not guilty by insanity is looked at. If you enjoy psychology or law then this is a great feature, all others can probably skip this.

Finally, the filmís Theatrical Trailer is included.

You may be wondering why this DVD cut gets an extra half star compared to the Blu-ray. The DVD comes in a sweet packaging that has an evidence sleeve thatís plastic that looks really nifty. So thus, I gave it a little boost, as though the Blu-Ray does not.


I donít even know where to begin with the video quality, so Iíll just start by saying awful. The first five minutes of the film look decent, but itís all downhill from there. Colors appear washed out and out of whack (check out the scene with Norton and the Psychiatrist, it has a weird orange tint) for the rest of the movie. There is also grain a plenty throughout, which at times is distracting. Thereís also major distortion that goes on in the film as well. This is not a pretty looking transfer by any means.

For the DVD cut, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds only slightly worse than the Dolby TrueHD offered by the Blu-Ray counterpart. Sounds are still low, surround use is minimal, and dialogue isnít as crisp as the high-res track. Thereís nothing great about this track at all, and even though this is a fairly old film, I still expected it to be a little better in terms of overall quality from the audio side.


While I may think this is a great film, thatís about all I think about it. The technical package is severely lacking as the audio and video are well below quality for normal DVDís. If you havenít seen it, then I strongly recommend renting before a purchase. Although the packaging and supplements is quite nifty, this is just one fear to not overcome and purchase.