Primal Fear

on April 05, 1996 by Kim Williamson
   The truth is "the one I create," boldly states high-powered defense lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) and with an equal boldness he demands, "This is a cover story, right?" of the journalist interviewing him. The stage is niftily set by scripters Steve Shagan ("Save the Tiger") and Ann Biderman ("Copycat") for an investigation of not only truth, but justice and the American way. But nothing cohesive comes of this theme, and the characterization of Vail wavers in and out. Sometimes he's the player in town; sometimes (except for the Armani) he seems just a nobody.
   If "Primal Fear" has any consistency, it would be its continual wavering, beginning with the ill-chosen title (one expects a slasher from the shadows throughout) and ending with the illogical close, in which a character the film's only sympathetic one suddenly evaporates, with no fair clues beforehand to preclude the audience from feeling unfairly used at the climax. Even easy items are fumbled; for example, after the magazine cover story on Vail appears, the interview continues later. Still, the storyline and courtroom scenes have built-in fascinations, and audiences interested simply in dramatics, however poorly orchestrated, will feel sated. Starring Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Edward Norton. Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Written by Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman. Produced by Gary Lucchesi. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for brief grisly violence, pervasive strong language and a sex scene. Running time: 130 min
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