He's arrogant, rich, smart and sexy. That's Richard Gere and the attorney
he portrays in "Primal Fear". Martin Vail loves the law but loves
the media attention more. When a naive young man is charged with the grizzly
murder of a beloved Archbishop, Vail jumps at chance to defend him only
because it is a high profile case. His ex-lover is assigned to prosecute
and we have a court room drama that is riveting. Luckily Laura Linney is
leaps ahead of her performance in "Congo". Having great material
to work with makes a difference too. William Diehl's best selling novel
was the basis for Steven Shagan and Ann Biderman's screenplay. And it helped
a lot to have Gregory Hoblit in the director chair, even though it is hard
to believe that this is his film directorial debut. As one of the forces
behind TV's "LA Law" and "NYPD Blue" Hoblit has not
only learned his way around the court room but has a way with strong characters
and the subtextures of court life. The behind the scenes maneuvering involve
John Mahoney, who is such a nice guy on "Fraiser", that it is
intriguing to see him pulling political strings in such a malevolent manner.
Alfre Woodard could give Judge Ito lessons on controlling a courtroom and
I have to admit that I forgot that she was on TV's "Hill Street Blues"
and "LA Law" winning Emmys for both. And one of my favorite non-traditional
beauties shows up as the psychiatrist. Frances McDormand is making a splash
in "Fargo" but her totally credible performance here gives credence
to what could have been an improbable plot twist. The most interesting character
has to be that of the altar boy turned suspect played by Edward Norton.
"Primal Fear" is his feature film debut and the casting of a very
talented unknown could be clever but in this case is essential. "Primal
Fear" is rated R for violence and should be on the adults' list of
movies to see this spring.