PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

Anees Bazmi directed a film in the mid-nineties called Dewangee starring Ajay Devgn, Urmila Matondkar, and Akshay Khanna. This film had an uncanny similarity to Primal Fear and I kept hearing about Dewangee being a remake of Primal Fear but I never bought myself to watch this film. Roger Ebert once said that he envies those men who are yet to see some of the classics that he had already enjoyed for these men were yet to cherish a moment that for him would not be repeated. These words correctly describe my feelings for Primal fear, which I recently watched and was blown away by. I also learned that Edward Norton was nominated for an academy award for his performance as a young man who is charged with murdering an archbishop in the film. There isn’t a word of praise that would be able to quantify his act in this film. Suffice would be to say that he was beyond brilliant.

Primal Fear tells the story of Aaron (Edward Norton), an innocent young man who is rescued by an archbishop when he falls on hard times. However, on a fateful day, the archbishop is brutally murdered and Aaron is found hiding in the bushes close to the scene of crime. They also find blood stains belonging to the archbishop on his clothes. He is arrested and brought up for trial. His version of the story is that he blacked out and saw a shadowy figure leaning on the archbishop and that he had not murdered the man. Defending him is a hotshot lawyer who is least bothered about the innocence of his client but is more inclined on winning the seemingly open and shut case and come under the limelight. Standing against him in the trial is his former colleague and possible sweetheart with whom he is now out of favors.

This is a riveting film. As the story peels back layer after layer to expose one evidence and situation after another that points fingers to the motives behind the crime and also moves towards implicating Aaron, we sit restlessly wanting something or the other to happen that would exonerate this man. Norton masterfully plays with your senses through his sublime act which shows him as this helpless young man who has been on the wrong side of luck for a while now. You want to believe that he is innocent but every now and then something happens that makes you think that he might not be innocent. Therein lies the biggest pull of the film and also its most humane angle.

Richard Gere is a charming man. He is one of the most suitable actors for the role of the defense attorney. His character is suave and foxy and doesn’t give a damn about his client. All he cares about is how to make the evening news. But as the film progresses we see him beginning to care for Aaron. This feeling is used superbly towards the end to extract some interesting and dramatic emotions from Gere’s character. Even for Aaron’s character, the split personality bit is handled masterfully. Each time the trigger is justifiable and the outbursts are sudden and brief. These factors rendered the sequences believable and made them haunting. Laura Linney who plays the prosecuting attorney is fantastic. After playing second fiddle in the first half, she comes to her own in the second half. I loved her act in the climax where she brings out the worst in Aaron. She is played for by Gere’s character and when she realizes that, one should see her honest reactions. I loved that bit.

Overall, Primal Fear is a sensational thriller that is bound to keep you on the edge of your seats. It is a film that reaches out to you at an emotional level and deals with issues that have been cropping up over and over again throughout the years. I loved its treatment and more so I was absolutely blown away by the performances. If there was a list of film that would stand out more for its performance than the story or treatment, then it would have Primal Fear right up there somewhere. Also like most other well-made courtroom dramas, this is one of the most re-watchable films with high entertainment value in every subsequent view. What more can we ask for?


Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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