Primal Fear

Critics Consensus

A straightforward, entertaining thriller with a crackerjack performance by Edward Norton.



Total Count: 44


Audience Score

User Ratings: 65,196
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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
Steven Bauer
as Joey Pinero
Joe Spano
as Capt. Abel Stenner
Tony Plana
as Martinez
Reg Rogers
as Connerman
Brian Reddy
as Woodside
Sigrid K. Zahner
as Vail's Secretary
Diann Burns
as WLS Anchor
Linda Yu
as WLS Anchor
Andy Shaw
as WLS Location Reporter
Mary Ann Childers
as WBBM Anchor
Lester Holt
as WBBM Anchor
Sylvia Gomez
as WBBM Location Reporter
Jon Duncanson
as WBBM Location Reporter
David Eckert
as WGN Anchor
Joanie Lum
as WGN Location Reporter
Randy Salerno
as WGN Location Reporter
Randall Slavin
as Young Boy
Turk Muller
as Precinct Jailer
Lenny Wilson
as Bartender
Wayne Wright
as Court Clerk
Tony Fitzpatrick
as Duty Officer
Clarence Williams Jr.
as Arresting Cop
Rosalie V. Lewis
as Stenographer
Dwight Brad Dyer
as Prison Guard
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News & Interviews for Primal Fear

Critic Reviews for Primal Fear

All Critics (44) | Top Critics (6)

Audience Reviews for Primal Fear

  • May 24, 2018
    Best romantic comedy I've seen in years. Richard Gere does it again.
    Spencer M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 10, 2016
    A pretty straightforward courtroom drama, with an astounding debut performance from Edward Norton and a great ending reveal.
    Peter B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 19, 2016
    Primal Fear is both disturbing and riveting, and the same goes for Edward Norton's over-the-top performance.
    Maymay A Super Reviewer
  • Nov 28, 2015
    Badly dated 90s courtroom thriller where lawyers do things they would never do and where schizophrenia is used as a plot twist in a totally unbelievable and medically ludicrous way. Edward Norton isn't nuanced enough to convince and Richard Gere is blander than usual, though it's nice to see the likes of Maura Tierney and Frances MacDormand pop up in supporting roles.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer

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