The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Paramount - 1996
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 130 Minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French/Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Starring: Richard Gere, Edward Norton, Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand
Directed by: Gregory Hoblit
Music by: James Newton Howard
Written by: Steve Shagan & Ann Biderman
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: March 10, 2009
"Don't believe everything you see"
A high-profile slaying becomes the case of an ambitious attorney's career in this legal thriller based on the novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the murder of a Chicago archbishop. Covered with blood, Aaron was captured after a foot chase broadcast live on TV, making a gleeful Vail certain that he could raise his profile by defending the obviously guilty suspect. Assigned to prosecute is Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable (Laura Linney), who is Vail's ex-girlfriend. Vail's case becomes more complicated than he expected when a psychologist, Dr. Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand) concludes that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder. Vail also uncovers evidence that the archbishop was involved in a corrupt land scheme and may have molested young parishioners. Now the cynical, opportunistic attorney is faced with a daunting prospect, a client who may actually deserve his best defense. Its shocking, twist ending made Primal Fear (1996) a big box office hit and earned Norton, in his screen debut, an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Primal fear is based upon the novel by William Diehl and is a clever, legal based thriller that takes its time as it lures you in one direction and then blindsides you with the truth. A film built around a legal case that appears to be open and shut against a slow witted fall guy is certainly nothing new. It's plainly obvious that there is more to the archbishop than meets the eye but the spin here is done well enough that it leaves several possibilities open to interpretation. I appreciate the fact that the story doesn't get bogged in the romantic past between Marty and Janet but uses it as a determining factor in their dealings with one another. It isn't perfect and there are things that go unexplained or are lightly touch upon subjects that would seem pertinent to the interactions of the characters and therefore require further detail. For instance I was fuzzy regarding the agreement/connection between Pinero, Shaughnessy, and Marty that apparently escalates. Later certain aspects surrounding Aaron's relationship with the archbishop are revealed but not satisfactorily. Once the truth comes out the focus shifts and leaves the explanation of motive hanging. We can assume certain things but I wouldn't have minded hearing it from the horse's mouth.
It really didn't matter because loose ends or not this is well executed film that doesn't work without the incredible performance by Edward Norton. This marked his first feature film role and he simply nailed it. First time out of the box and he earns an Oscar nomination, it doesn't get any better than that. The rest of the cast was solid as well. I have been enamored with Laura Linney ever since I first saw her in a movie called Congo. When she is onscreen it's tough to notice anyone else. She has a commanding presence and striking good looks that go hand in hand with the strong female characters she often portrays. I like Richard Gere and he was fine in this role but for me he wasn't a standout in this film. The cast is filled with talented actors who felt underused but even with that I felt John Mahoney, Andre Braugher, and Alfre Woodard added more depth to their characters than he did. At 2 hours 10 minutes it plays just a hair too long but the story is engaging enough that it doesn't feel as though it's dragging. I have owned it on DVD for a number of years and enjoy watching it from time to time. This Blu-ray Disc release gave me the opportunity to re-visit it all over again and the experience was even better in high definition.
The rating is for brief grisly violence, pervasive strong language, and a sex scene.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
Primal fear comes to Blu-ray Disc from Paramount featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 28 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio that has an average bitrate of 3.6 mbps.
This catalog release title from Paramount looked very good and easily bests the standard definition DVD. Detail was quite revealing during close ups and offered a good level of subtle texture and refinement. Wide angle shots were resolute but not definitively resolved which left fine object detail lacking delineation and images appearing less dimensional. I noticed on occasion that certain scenes softened to a degree which appeared to almost be an innate focusing issue but I couldn't be sure. Color reproduction was solid and didn't exhibit over saturation or smearing. Fleshtones had a subtle pinkish hue but otherwise came across positively. Grain was visible throughout but was never objectionable. The chase sequence that goes into the darkened slum area had a fair level of depth with visible yet restricted perception of details within the low lit walls/ceiling in the background. Black levels were above average but lacked the depth and visual punch to make them defining. A few backgrounds exhibited minor digital noise but it wasn't egregious or compromising to image quality. This video presentation represents a marked improvement over the DVD version and on average looks very good.
The Dolby TrueHD audio capably handled the elements present in this soundtrack. Dialogue was reproduced with crystal clarity and discriminating definition. Low level detail contained within the recording was discerning which allowed even the lowest spoken passages or discretely delivered background ambience to be distinct. The soundfield was one dimensional and front heavy but appropriate for the source material. The rear channels supplied mild ambient detail along with a few discretely placed panning effects (such as a circling helicopter) that broadened the soundstage. By and large the majority of the soundtrack is dialogue but its use of the entire system to enhance presence as dictated by the story is notable.
- Commentary by Director Gregory Hoblit, Writer Ann Biderman, Producer Gary Lucchesi, Executive Producer Hawk Koch, and Casting Director Deborah Aquila
- (HD) Primal fear: The final verdict - 18 minute making of featurette
- (HD) Primal fear: Star witness - 18 minute casting featurette (focus on Edward Norton)
- (HD) Psychology of guilt - 13 minute documentary on the insanity defense
- (HD) Original theatrical trailer
Primal fear is an interesting character study of a cynical, opportunistic attorney who reveals that perhaps he is not the unfeeling, money grubber that he purports to be when he decides to take a pro-bono case and represent an accused killer who hasn't an ally in the world. As the case unfolds he finds that not only is the murder more than just a singular act but his client is more than what he seems. This is an excellent film that features a stellar cast, highlighted by Edward Norton's Academy Award nominated performance. Paramount brings it to Blu-ray Disc in this Hard Evidence Edition that is being released day and date with the DVD. It offers good high definition audio/video quality and decent set of new bonus features that fans are sure to appreciate. An easy purchase recommendation for fans and a highly recommended rental for first time viewers.
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Oppo 970HD universal disc DVD Player (480i HDMI)
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Marantz DV7001 Universal Disc Player
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APC AV S15BLK Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
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Cool Components - CP-CP102 cooling package
Ralph C. Potts
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Signed, Aaron Stampler
Great performance by Ed Norton. Well deserving of an Oscar nomination.
Sorry if my Stampler impersonation offends anyone.
Adding this to my collection.
Thanks again for the write up Ralph.
It's the audio that suprised me. I've had the DVD and never noticed the surround material I was hearing. Everything from the subway train you hear in the background when the beginning credits come up, to the sound of the copters and the train in the chase sequence, to whispered background conversations in the interior scenes previously masked by a lossy encode. While it won't rival a modern soundtrack, I was impressed!