One of the most memorable legal thrillers of the 1990s, the Richard Gere-led “Primal Fear” was famed for its Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning breakthrough performance by Edward Norton along with superb supporting turns by the likes of Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Andre Braugher among many others.
Helmed by “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue” stalwart Gregory Hoblit and boasting a script co-penned by Ann Biderman (“Copycat”) based on Gregory Hoblit’s novel, it’s a film with rich characterisation and some wonderful dialogue sparring in this story of a 19-year-old stuttering altar boy accused of murdering the beloved Archbishop of San Francisco.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “PRIMAL FEAR”
The film is also famous for its twist ending, the final few minutes showcasing the true strength of Norton’s performance whilst also delivering an ending for Gere’s lead character that goes somewhat against the grain for films of this type.
There’s no justice served and Gere’s Martin Vail ends the film standing in the middle of the street utterly defeated and dejected. Acting-wise it’s also Gere being forced to play it subtle whilst a then-unknown Norton in many ways takes the glory.
Speaking with Reelblend Podcast this week whilst out promoting “Motherless Brooklyn,” Norton took some time to reflect on “Primal Fear” and how it was Gere who fought to make sure the movie ended the way it did even as everyone around them wanted something more Hollywood-friendly:
“I was very very impressed by Richard Gere. Specifically, because there was a lot of chatter and pressure around that production about the ending. And about the idea that it should be reshot, or we should do it differently. That he should win.
Literally, the ideas were as bad as he should punch out the kid. You should realize he’s gonna nail him. He should have a recorder on him and be busting him. All these things. And all it was this like terror. And Richard was the one who really stood firm. Almost to the point of refusing to do anything else.
He was like ‘Did anybody see what we just did here?!’ He was kind of pointing at me, and he was like ‘this is how you use me to best effect.’ Because I’m slick, it’s a body blow. ‘The last shot of the movie is me standing with my shoulders sagging, punched in the face. And that’s it’. And I was like, that is really cool. This is not ‘I need to come out on top, I need to win. My character.’ We made the movie work.”
Indeed the film is all the better for it. Spending three weeks at the top of the U.S. box-office, the $30 million feature hauled in $102.6 million for Paramount in 1996 along with drawing some strong reviews.