Primal Fear, DVD video
Five out of five stars
A high ranking official of the Catholic Church is brutally murdered with a knife, stabbed many times with his fingers cut off. An altar boy with blood on his clothing is captured fleeing the scene and is charged with the murder. Noted trial attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) sees the events unfold on television and decides to serve as the boy’s attorney. Vail is a superb lawyer with an overpowering desire to seek publicity.
By all appearances the boy is meek and mild-mannered, incapable of murdering. He claims that there was a third person in the room, even though there is no evidence of that. Vail is also representing a man that grew up in the area and is fighting a plan to demolish buildings for development. The murdered man stood in the way of the development, leading to massive losses for the investors, giving others a motive for the killing.
There are many twists and turns, a subplot of romance gone bad, yet with sparks that may be able to rekindle it. At the end when it seems all is clear and legal victory is in sight, there is a sudden verbal slip that leads to a reveal all moment.
When the primary plot device is based on someone with supposed mental illness, the movie rises or falls with the performance of the actor playing that part. Edward Norton is superb in this role as the altar boy, at one point you are sympathetic and then you are not. This movie creates a degree of tension that grabs and holds your interest until it is over and you think, “Now what?”