Even though his name doesn’t appear on the poster, Primal Fear is Edward Norton’s best role ever (along with American History X), and the same was also acknowledged with an Oscar nomination for this breakthrough supporting role performance.
A psychological thriller Primal Fear is, being a murder mystery and an investigative piece, completely overshadowed by Norton’s act of the stuttering altar boy, Aaron, convicted of murdering a priest. As a result, this courtroom drama sees Richard Gere’s Martin Vail take on the case of this helpless culprit in the hope to benefit his own reputation, but what results is a cat and mouse game of deception, lies, hidden secrets, and the realization that truth is far from what is in front of our eyes.
Norton’s performance further benefits from the fact that the film is very basic in its execution and even with stars like Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, and Richard Gere it is extremely unassuming. Add to that the twists and turns that the investigation presents at regular intervals, and we get a tightly packed edge of the seat drama that keeps the audience guessing till the end credits.
A chilling and entertaining thriller with an ending that is at par with that of The Usual Suspects or Seven, Primal Fear is one of those sometimes underrated film gems that is as compelling now as it was almost two decade ago when it released.