Primal Fear: Hard Evidence Edition (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Based on the novel by William Diehl, “Primal Fear” hit screens in 1996 and introduced the world to a young, almost unheard of actor. That actor? Edward Norton. The movie followed the story of a young choir boy who was accused of murdering an Archbishop in Chicago. Richard Gere played the lead role of Martin Vail, but it was Norton who stole the show and even ended up with an Academy Award Nomination to his credit (his first of two?so far). The novel also had a follow-up, “Show of Evil”, but that hasn’t yet made it to the screen, and with nearly ten years since the original it’s looking less and less likely. What set this movie apart from other “lawyer” movies (mainly by John Grisham) is that we knew the main character was scum (Gere). He’s egotistical, suave and good-looking ? the hero you love to hate. He takes cases not because he wants to defend them, but because of where and how many times that he can get his name in the paper and photo in magazines. There’s no sense in doing something if you can’t get credit for it, right?

The trouble all starts when an archbishop is brutally murdered. We don’t see who did it, but when the television cameras televise the chase, we end up with a scared, frightened young boy from Kentucky (Edward Norton). This looks like an open and shut case and Defense Attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is so in love with the case, that he wants to have it at any cost. “Cost” is the key word here as he takes the case pro-bono, knowing the exposure is much more valuable than any money he could get. As he gets to know Aaron (Norton), we see that he has a multiple personality disorder and his alter ego is Roy. A psychiatrist (Frances McDormand in a year that she would go onto win her Best Actress Oscar for “Fargo”) is in charge of determining if he really has two personalities or he’s just faking it to get out of the bind he’s in. We get to know Martin Vail as a shallow, self-centered sort of person and we’re meant not to like him. He’s a womanizer and has had relations with Janet Venable (Laura Linney), his opposition in the courtroom, in the past. Does Aaron/Roy exist and is this a plot to get out of lifetime imprisonment or is this confused person truly the victim here?

What “Primal Fear” will probably be known for is the casting. At the time, Richard Gere was the only well-known major star, but since then Edward Norton, Laura Linney and Frances McDormand have all gone onto very successful movie careers. The movie takes place in Chicago, always a favorite when New York or Los Angeles isn’t in the cards. The performances are outstanding and only recently has Richard Gere actually had a better role than the one he played here (ironically enough, he played another lawyer in “Chicago” and was overlooked for an Academey Award Nomination). This is the kind of timeless, gritty movie that doesn’t really seem to be dated and doesn’t underestimate the audience either. For those who haven’t had a chance to see this gem from the mid 90’s, it’s one of the more underrated films of the last ten years and should the sequel ever hit the screen, I’ll be first in line.

Video: How does it look?

It’s been a long wait, nearly ten years to be exact, but we’ve finally got a decent-looking version of “Primal Fear” on disc. The 1.85:1 HD transfer looks good enough, detail is bumped up considerably and contrast has been improved as well. I still actually have my old standard non-anamorphic DVD and let me just say that if you’ve any doubt as to what a good transfer can do in terms of picture quality ? this is a great example. The image is cleaned up whereas the DVD seemed muddy and was plagued with grain in key scenes. While “Primal Fear” isn’t up to par with some of the newer Blu-ray’s on the market, it’s cleaned up image is nothing to bawk at. A good effort here.

Audio: How does it sound?

There are moments in “Primal Fear” that make some good use of surround sound. One that comes to mind is the opening sequence in which we hear the train tracks squealing and the sound fills the room. By and large this is a dialogue-driven movie and the new Dolby TrueHD soundtrack does sound good. There aren’t a lot of moments for the soundtrack to take off, but in the few scenes that the audio does take control, it sounds good. A bump up in sound quality? Yes, but let’s face it ? this isn’t a movie that relies too heavily on audio.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Well it’s about time that “Primal Fear” got some supplements. After a decade of only a trailer, we get a pretty interesting commentary with Director Gregory Hoblit, Writer Ann Biderman, Producer Gary Lucchesi, Executive Producer Hawk Koch, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila. There are a lot of voices on this track, but Hoblit takes the lead and does give a pretty decent track. For a big fan of the movie, this was all I really needed for this film. It’s a good, engaging track and one that fans of the movie will love for sure. A trio of featurettes are also included as is the same original trailer used on the standard DVD. Lastly, and I usually don’t comment on cover art, but for this “Hard Evidence Edition” Paramount has used some new cover art with photos of Edward Norton and Richard Gere in somewhat of a mug shot motif. I personally liked the old cover art better, but this one obviously showcases the fact that Edward Norton was in the movie. Anyway, it’s of little consequence but I figured it was worth mentioning.

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