Primal Fear (1996) - Rotten Tomatoes

Primal Fear1996

Primal Fear (1996)



Critic Consensus: Primal Fear is a straightforward yet entertaining thriller elevated by a crackerjack performance from Edward Norton.

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Movie Info

A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney's career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the murder of a Chicago archbishop. Covered with blood, Aaron was captured after a foot chase broadcast live on TV, making a gleeful Vail certain that he could raise his profile by defending the obviously guilty suspect. Assigned to prosecute is Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who is Vail's ex-girlfriend. Vail's case becomes more complicated than he expected when a psychologist, Dr. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand) concludes that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder. Vail also uncovers evidence that the archbishop was involved in a corrupt land scheme and may have molested young parishioners. Now the cynical, opportunistic attorney is faced with a daunting prospect, a client who may actually deserve his best defense. Its shocking, twist ending made Primal Fear (1996) a big box office hit and earned Norton, in his screen debut, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

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Richard Gere
as Martin Vail
Edward Norton
as Aaron Stampler
Laura Linney
as Janet Venable
Alfre Woodard
as Judge Miriam Shoat
John Mahoney
as John Shaughnessy
Frances McDormand
as Dr Molly Arrington, Dr. Molly Arrington
Steven Bauer
as Joey Pinero
Joe Spano
as Capt. Abel Stenner, Kapitan Abel Stenner
Tony Plana
as Martinez
Stanley Anderson
as Arcybiskup Richard Rushman, Rushman
Reg Rogers
as Connerman
Brian Reddy
as Woodside
Sigrid K. Zahner
as Sekretarka Vaila, Vail's Secretary
Diann Burns
as Prezenterka WLS, WLS Anchor
Linda Yu
as Prezenterka WLS, WLS Anchor
Andy Shaw
as Reporter WLS, WLS Location Reporter
Mary Ann Childers
as Prezenterka WBBM, WBBM Anchor
Lester Holt
as Prezenter WBBM, WBBM Anchor
Sylvia Gomez
as WBBM Location Reporter, Reporter WBBM
Jon Duncanson
as Reporter WBBM, WBBM Location Reporter
David Eckert
as Prezenter WGN, WGN Anchor
Robert "R.J." Jordan
as WGN Anchor, Prezenter WGN
Joanie Lum
as WGN Location Reporter, Reporterka WGN
Randy Salerno
as Reporter WGN, WGN Location Reporter
Kyle Colerider-Krugh
as Postman, Listonosz
Randall Slavin
as Ch?opak, Young Boy
Mike Bacarella
as Sergeant, Sier?ant
Turk Muller
as Precinct Jailer, Stra?nik wi?zienny
Joe Kosala
as Cop, Gliniarz
Lenny Wilson
as Barman, Bartender
Peter Schreiner
as Bailiff, Wo?ny s?dowy
Joseph R. Ryan
as Old Man, Starzec
Wayne Wright
as Court Clerk, Urz?dnik s?dowy
Tony Fitzpatrick
as Duty Officer, Oficer celny
Clarence Williams Jr.
as Arresting Cop, Policjant dokonuj?cy aresztowania
Rosalie V. Lewis
as Stenographer, Stenotypistka
Dwight Brad Dyer
as Prison Guard, Stra?nik wi?zienny
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Critic Reviews for Primal Fear

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (8)

The plot is as good as crime procedurals get, but the movie is really better than its plot because of the three-dimensional characters.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

As a forum for its actors and for the big-screen directorial debut of multi-Emmy winner Gregory Hoblit, the film is up to the job.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 3/4
Top Critic

A tense psychological thriller rich with shadowy menace and a sense of confidence that allows the impressive cast to shine.

June 23, 2021 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

It's part trial procedural but mostly the suspenseful unraveling of testimony and the realization of lies.

September 23, 2020 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

The part of the script that's dialogue instead of plot is quite snappy. So I believed in this sordid story... for a while.

March 13, 2019 | Full Review…

...a solid drama that's elevated on an all-too-consistent basis by Norton's impressively hypnotic work.

May 7, 2011 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Primal Fear

Best romantic comedy I've seen in years. Richard Gere does it again.

Spencer Macklin
Spencer Macklin

Super Reviewer

Primal Fear is a well crafted court room drama thriller that is very well directed by underrated Gregory Hoblit. I really love his movies and Primal Fear is taut, thrilling edge of your seat movie that will keep you guessing from start to finish. The film boasts a great cast of talented actor who light up the screen and each actor brings something unique to the film. The film is notable for being the screen debut of Edward Norton who just steals the show among veteran actors like Richard Gere and Laura Linney. The film at times does have a few weak points, but with a great cast at hand that just light up the screen, it is hard to notice the film's imperfections. Edward Norton, like I said is simply wonderful in his part and he delivers a phenomenal first performance in his role of Aaron Stampler, a teen accused of killing a popular archbishop. The film is engaging from the first frame onwards and it is skillfully executed to keep you entertained. Primal Fear is one of the best court room thrillers that I have seen, and it is a film that is directed by a director that deserves much more praise than he gets. If you love thrillers that will keep you on the edge till the very end, Primal Fear is one such movie. This is a chilling piece of work that is brilliantly constructed and has a smart plot with all the necessary ingredients to make it a standout film and a memorable one that you soon won't forget. The film showcased Edward Norton's talents and it was clear that by seeing him in this early role, he would become a talented actor that would deliver terrific and engaging performances.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer


One detriment of the film is its mainstream formula. It needlessly adds the romance of Gere and Linney, which is both frivolous and unrealistic. I'm not sure which audience was being catered for with their wholly unlikely association with each other. Though hampered by Hollywood's depiction of a courtroom, Primal Fear is a twisting, entertaining thriller with Edward Norton's performance being the key to its success.

Jack Hawkins
Jack Hawkins

Super Reviewer

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