Tuesday, September 8, 2015


(April 1996, U.S.)

The legal/crime thriller is a particular genre I've always admired in film and one that's almost guaranteed to offer the surprising shock in the end. By that same token, it's very often that the surprise end may not be that much of a shock, after all. More often than not, we'll learn who really "done it" when we actually thought someone else really "done it" or perhaps we'll already know who "done it" and we'll be surprised by finding out the real reason they "done it". My point, I think, is that when it comes to the legal/crime thriller, I've always held the idea that the true thrills come from watching, listening and in keeping up with the point-by-point chapters of the trial itself as it's taking place before us. In the world of law and order, one must decide which rings true in terms of genuine, attention-grabbing thrills. Thrills, mind you, not action, are what I believe constitutes a film (or original William Diehl novel) like PRIMAL FEAR, in which the traditional high profile, money-hungry, less-than-scrupulous criminal defense attorney Martin Vail (played by Richard Gere) is almost textbook in displaying everything we've come to hate about criminal attorneys and why we take such immense pleasure in every lawyer joke we've ever heard in our life!

For what I suppose is meant to be pure shock value, the murder victim which shall come to outline the entire plot of the film is the city of Chicago's Archbishop; shock in both how he's murdered and the secret sexual skeletons he had buried in his closet (at a time, mind you, before the subject of pedophile priests became the subject of countless and endless news items at the beginning of the 21st Century!). The alleged murderer is none other than one of the Archbishop's own victims in his sexual videotape indulgences, Aaron Stampler (played by Edward Norton), a simple-minded teenager who appears to suffer from a bad case of stuttering and chronic blackouts in which he loses time. This, of course, is the perfect set up for wondering whether or not this mindless boob really committed such a horrible mutilation. Despite the fact that Martin believes in never asking (or caring!) if a client is guilty or not guilty, he truly believes Aaron to be innocent of the crime and explores the possibility of another person who may have been in the room at the time of the killing (very convenient!). Again, where one chooses to accept the real surprise shock value of any legal/crime thriller is up to them, but the film makes a solid point of revealing specific points of defect in Aaron's character and personality, mainly the fact that he suffers from a split personality and that his alter ego Roy, a harder, more intelligent, non-stuttering redneck type, is very likely the one who actually committed the crime. By this time, even this sort of surprise may feel redundant of past thrillers and one we can almost readily and willingly accept as the final outcome of the trial and Aaron's ultimate fate.

And yet still...it ain't over! Only at the last moment, mere minutes before the film is coming to an end, do we learn the real truth of not only who Aaron and/or Roy actually are, but we must also indulge ourselves in the fact that the high and mighty Marin Vail, the all-incredible lawyer who thought he knew every trick in the book, suddenly realizes he's been very badly duped during the entire course of not only the trial, but his own faith in a client he believed to be innocent. Yes, despite the fact that murder has been committed against a religious man of the cloth who very likely deserved what he got, we can't help but feel for the poor bastard lawyer who just received a really horrible wake-up call in the game known as life and law, and the man who ultimately got away with what he did, which I must admit, turns out to be a rather interesting feel good moment for the viewer. You see, like it or not, human beings carry an undeniable streak of barbarism within themselves that's wonderfully put to the test when we get a thrill watching the bad guy get away with it...at least on film, anyway!

As performances go, everybody, particularly Gear, carries their weight wonderfully in a film that requires solid attention to plotting and dialogue. Admittedly, though, I can't say I've always been a true fan of Laura Linney, both in her looks and her acting, which I often find to be quite morose. However, in this particular role, she is striking to look at. This particular moment, however, I finding physically alluring in her firm, yet attractive face, her hair style and that smooth, (almost) naked shoulder with the black dress strap...

Yes, I think it's safe to say that if I were trying a case against her and she looked at me just like that and perhaps even winked and licked her upper lip, my defense would concede to the prosecution! But that's me!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Janet Vanable: "Do you know what I would do if someone did that to me? I would kill him, I wouldn't hesitate! I would stab him seventy-eight times! I would chop off his fingers, slash his throat open, carve numbers in his chest, gouge out his eyes, I swear to God...but that's me!"

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