Here’s what critics around the country are saying about “Primal Fear:”
Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: As a marquee banner, “Primal Fear” may suggest a generic horror shocker. No such thing: The conflicted character study that follows those words onto the screen is as deep as crime pictures get.
Rod Dreher/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel: The best thing about “Primal Fear” is the film debut of Edward Norton, who plays the mentally disturbed accused killer with seductive subtlety that’s utterly beguiling to watch. His supporting performance may be remembered around Oscar nominating time; everything else about “Primal Fear” is forgettable.
Lawrence Toppman/Charlotte Observer: If “Primal Fear” were lunch meat, it would be souse. You know the stuff: a jumble of odds and ends from better cuts, palatable enough if you don’t look closely at it.
The standard-issue elements of a legal thriller can be found here: a brilliant but conscienceless defense lawyer (Gere), a killer with multiple personalities, an ill-defined conspiracy of rich developers, an archbishop murdered after making sex tapes of young runaways, a prosecutor (Laura Linney) who had an affair with the defense attorney and must now face him in court, blah blah blah.
Maybe William Diehl’s novel works better than the script by Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman. Maybe Diehl explains how a stern judge (Alfre Woodward) would allow ridiculous grandstanding by the lawyers and even permit Gere’s character to whisper advice to his client while questioning him on the witness stand.
Bob Strauss/Los Angeles Daily News: The folks who made “Primal Fear” were so intent on telling a clever, complicated story that they let themselves get sandbagged by their own plot. It’s like an episode of “L.A. Law” or “NYPD Blue” that could’ve used another rewrite - something director Gregory Hoblit, who’s won scads of Emmys for his work on those and similar shows, should have recognized.
Intriguing while it unfolds, “Primal Fear’s” primary problem is that it requires extended gullibility from both its audience and the supposedly smart operators it showcases.
Joe Baltake/Scripps-McClatchy Western Service: Like its predecessors, “Primal Fear” is absorbing, high-toned entertainment. Unlike its predecessors, however, it doesn’t have to work quite so hard to get us to suspend our disbelief.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘Primal Fear’ Locations: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Gregory Hoblit; starring Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Alfre Woodard, Laura Linney Running time: 1:55 Rating: R