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A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney's career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Martin Vail is a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler, 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, who is Vail's ex-girlfriend. Vail's case becomes more complicated than he expected when a psychologist 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.
For more about Primal Fear and the Primal Fear Blu-ray release, see Primal Fear Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writers: Steve Shagan, Ann Biderman
Starring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Alfre Woodard
» See full cast & crew
Primal Fear Blu-ray Review
Edward Norton debuts with an award-winning performance...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 2, 2009
Of the all the fresh Hollywood faces that emerged in the '90s and went on to earn box office attention and critical acclaim, Edward Norton is one of the only actors to establish himself as a true leading man. Since 1996, a variety of groundbreaking projects, diverse roles, and award-winning performances have allowed him to leave a lasting impression on moviegoers and industry professionals alike. His talents as a filmmaker have even given him the opportunity to rescue sinking productions like American History X, produce stories near and dear to him, and dabble behind the camera as well. Of course, none of it would have been possible without Norton's unsettling, career-defining turn as a mentally unstable young man in director Gregory Hoblit's Primal Fear.
When a mild-mannered altar boy named Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) is accused of killing a revered archbishop in Chicago, an arrogant and relentless defense attorney by the name of Martin Vail (Richard Gere) decides to take the case to boost his own exposure and notoriety. However, when Vail begins to believe the young man might actually be innocent, he discovers a shocking secret that could potentially save Aaron's life and reveal the identity of the mysterious third party who committed the murder. As the lead prosecutor (Laura Linney) fights to unravel her opponent's complex theories in front of the jury, Vail has to do the unthinkable and draw the real killer into the courtroom.
It may sound cliché, but without Norton's resounding performance, Primal Fear would probably be yet another twists-n-turns drama-of-the-week that doesn't have the power or punch to stand out from other genre pics of the decade. His portrayal of Stampler is so complete and convincing that it survives a rather convoluted trio of plot twists; each one more dependent on the last. By the time the film reaches its sudden and surprising finale, Norton has created such a rounded and believable character that the entire script falls into place. I not only bought into what could have been a thoroughly contrived series of developments, I bought into each one without doubting the integrity of the story or questioning the cohesion of the overall plot. Honestly, Norton's performance is so effortless -- so utterly engrossing -- that it overshadows the fact that the film stumbles when it adheres to genre conventions or focuses on its relatively predictable main characters.
Simply put, Primal Fear is a rarity among courtroom dramas: its lawyers are reduced to agents of exposition as a supporting character (a defendant at that) grabs hold of viewers at every turn. It not only serves as a testament to Norton's talent and breakthrough magnetism as an actor, but proves a film doesn't need star-power or 25-million dollar headliners to leave audiences and critics reeling. Maybe sometimes all it takes to elevate a film is an actor's dedication. Perhaps all it takes to transform an otherwise standard genre pic into something special is the work of a relative unknown committed to their craft above all else. Either way, Primal Fear remains a film that will continue to thrill modern audiences for years to come.
Primal Fear Blu-ray, Video Quality
Before I drop any adjectives that scare you away from the Blu-ray edition of Primal Fear, you should know that, overall, Paramount's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer manages to overcome the limitations of Hoblit's drab palette and his director of photography's uninspired lighting. In fact, aside from some lingering edge enhancement and an unnecessary (albeit minor) scene-specific application of noise reduction, the transfer looks quite good. While the film's colors are presented with strong and stable hues, skintones are pale, primaries are subdued, and blacks aren't as well-resolved as I would have preferred. Even so, delineation is more revealing than it is on the standard DVD, dimensionality is more remarkable, and detail, above all else, has received a noticeable boost in clarity. Sure, a few textures are undermined by the use of DNR and a few shots are softer than most, but object edges are usually sharp, fabric and stubble look fairly crisp, and several establishing shots and close-ups show off the disc's upgraded resolution. If anything, the transfer suffers from consistency issues -- some scenes look fantastic and others are underwhelming. Thankfully, artifacting is kept to a minimum, source noise only invades the image during a handful of shadowy scenes, and film grain is steady, faint, and unobtrusive.
Primal Fear won't reach out and slap anyone with its visuals; even longtime fans of the film. However, Paramount has handled the original print with respect, producing an above average presentation. As it stands, if it weren't for the presence of unnecessary post-production tampering, the studio's transfer would probably be worthy of serious praise.
Primal Fear Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Paramount improves matters with an unexpectedly immersive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track. Sure, catalog courtroom dramas aren't usually the source of involving sonics, but Primal Fear delivers several standout sequences including visceral cross-cuts, bass-pounding revelations, and regularly convincing interior acoustics and ambience. LFE support is minimalistic but natural, granting vocal tones and violent outbursts the same attention. Rear speaker involvement is just as notable, creating a realistic soundfield that delivers precise directionality and transparent front-to-back pans. Even little details like the slight echo of the courthouse halls and the dampened dynamics of a holding cell have been carefully crafted in the soundscape. There are a few scenes in which an actor's voice sounds a bit muddled compared to other performers in the same space, but the discrepancy never becomes a persistent problem or a substantial distraction. For the most part, dialogue is crisp, intelligible, and nicely prioritized throughout the film.
While Primal Fear isn't the second-coming of catalog lossless tracks, I don't have any major complaints. Impressive, weighty, and realistic, Paramount's TrueHD offering should satisfy fans of the film and audiophiles alike.
Primal Fear Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Primal Fear includes all of the supplements set to appear on the concurrently-released Hard Evidence Edition DVD. While there aren't any extensive documentaries to get excited about, Paramount has encoded the disc's video content in high definition.
Primal Fear Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While some consider Primal Fear to be a one-trick pony -- the sort of flick that rests entirely on the impact of a single performance -- I find that it doesn't matter. Norton's work is so engrossing, so engaging, that the film's flaws are rendered inert. Regardless of how you feel about the film itself though, you'll likely be pleased with its Blu-ray release. While its video transfer has a few problems, its high definition visuals still offer a solid upgrade, its lossless audio track is impressive, and its supplemental package finally gives owners of the original barebones DVD some insight into the production. Anyone who hasn't seen Primal Fear should probably stick to renting it first, but fans shouldn't hesitate to drop some more cash on Norton's debut performance.
Primal Fear: Other Editions
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• Today on Blu-ray - March 10th - March 10, 2009
For their second Platinum Blu-ray title, Disney decided to open their vaults and release their second feature-length animated feature 'Pinocchio'. This timeless story of a wooden marionette who, with help from his designated conscience Jiminy Cricket, is tempted ...
• Primal Fear Special Edition Announced for Blu-ray - December 15, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'Primal Fear: Special Edition' to Blu-ray on March 10th. The film is mostly known for being Edward Norton's first feature film, for which he earned an Oscar-nomination. Video will be presented in 1080p ...
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