20 Years On: “Primal Fear”

  
There are some films that hold up very well over time, while others take on a dated look and feel, but can still be well worth many more viewings, if not at least one. Then there are those that simply can’t survive past an initial viewing. Why? They were created in such a way that it’s virtually impossible to recapture what once made it so much fun to watch.

The Paramount Pictures film “Primal Fear”, is a faint reminder of an entertaining film, but not one that can hold up after two decades.

This legal drama stars Richard Gere (“The Benefactor”, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”), Laura Linney (upcoming films “Genius”, “Sully”), John Mahoney (“Foyle’s War”, “Hot in Cleveland”), Alfre Woodard (upcoming series “Luke Cage”, “The Last Ship”), Frances McDormand (“Hail, Caesar!”, “The Good Dinosaur”), Edward Norton (upcoming films “Sausage Party”, “Collateral Beauty”), Terry O’Quinn (upcoming season “Secrets and Lies”, “Hawaii Five-0”), Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, “Outliving Emily”), Steven Bauer (“Battle Creek”, “Sweet Lorraine”), Joe Spano (NCIS”, “NCIS: New Orleans”) Tony Plana (upcoming episode “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders”, “The Fosters”), Stanley Anderson (“NYPD Blue”, “The Last Shot”), Maura Tierney (“The Affair”, “The Good Wife”), and Jon Seda (“Chicago P.D.”, “Chicago Fire”).

The film was directed by Gregory Hoblit (“The Strain”, “The Americans”) and written by Steve Shagan (“Voyage of the Damned”, “Save the Tiger”) and Ann Biderman (“Ray Donovan”, “Southland”). It is based on the novel of the same name by William Diehl.

The film originally opened on April 3, 1996. The film would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award, one Golden Globe Award; winning one, and one BAFTA Award.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve seen this film at least once, and even in the most recent viewing there was something off about it. I couldn’t really pinpoint what it was, but now having seen this 20 year old film, I’m certain I know what it is. It’s a disappointing conclusion to come to, especially as I’m fairly certain this film was one I was determined to see. Some films, no matter how hard you try, just can’t wow you like they once did or at all.

Okay, to quickly get it out of the way, and to make it clear, there was nothing wrong with the acting. The acting from everyone, even the actors with drastically less screen time, was good. When I saw O’Quinn on screen I was excited! It’s so rare to see him in films and what I’ve seen of him over the years has always been good. Anyway. This film certainly reminded me why Gere, Linney, McDormand, and even Norton are so highly regarded. They may not be in many films today, particularly notable ones, but they each have proven themselves time and again. In this film, it’s still incredibly evident of just how talented they were at the time. I almost forgot Woodard. She may have had a pretty small role, but each moment she was onscreen as the judge, she nailed it. She was not someone who messed around. In some ways, this acting is what helped get me into this story emotionally. If it weren’t for the small bits of character we got, which still wasn’t enough, I don’t know if I could’ve gotten through this film. The courtroom aspects can only carry you so far, and in this case, it wouldn’t have been far enough. So, while I still wish there was more to the characters, the little we got was better than nothing and helpful overall.

For me, the biggest draw, which was handled pretty well and made the overall film exciting and worth watching, was the courtroom action. Although it does also have me wondering why people think that courtroom dramas would make for interesting films. It was engaging and exciting! Pretty much the only things you need to accomplish in any courtroom setting. Every aspect that was detailed was fun and brought with it its own natural drama. Hell, even the emotional level went up and down depending on who was making the argument or doing cross examination. I have yet to be truly let down by any kind of courtroom drama program, but that may be because I find law to be somewhat fascinating. Yes, that which actual law students study and lawyers practice, is complicated and tedious, it doesn’t keep it from being down right interesting. Because of this, I have no problems at all following along, and that right there, is half the battle. How do you present complex legalese to the average person? This could’ve gone badly, and I’m glad that at least it holds up and can make watching this film easier.

Speaking of watching this film. You can’t watch this film and be surprised again. You know what’s going to happen. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s a common issue with some films, but that’s potentially because of how well constructed a film is. I’m not fully convinced that this is the case for this film. While the courtroom drama and the acting was phenomenal, the film suffered from being a bit too slow and boring. It really dragged at places and all I wanted was for it to be over. It’s almost two hours long. That’s problem number one. The next problem, and this one is a wee bit of a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, I doubt you will. There’s a twist ending. This is what makes the film impossible to watch again. I tried to ignore the ending and watch it like I had no idea, but I couldn’t. Probably because it was slow. In the end, the twist didn’t matter. Almost nothing mattered. The film was over. Now, maybe the film originally was some sort of amazing experience with a surprise end, and maybe it wasn’t. I can’t tell anymore. All I know is, the acting was fine and I’d seen the film all the way through. Another one checked off my list.

While I may not have been able to be completely wowed by this film, this time or the previous time, which may or may not have been my first time altogether, I’m still glad I saw it. There’s plenty to appreciate and enjoy from this film, as well as a lot to hope that other filmmakers avoid doing in other films. Certainly, as a courtroom drama, it sets a certain bar that should be met and passed for other films taking place wholly, or in part, in a court room. If not, then to some extent, there’s no point in making the film at all.

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