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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Characters regularly lie and undermine each other -- both inside the courtroom and beyond -- with innocence and guilt coming secondary to winning and financial gain. Corruption runs deep in power, but is challenged by some who show courage.
Positive Role Models
Defense attorney Martin Vail chases sensation and fame over truth, but he grows to show real concern for the future of his client. Vail's opposing counsel, Janet Venable, is similarly dedicated to the job over justice but risks everything to expose corruption at a higher level. Many people in power -- including an archbishop and a state's attorney -- are shown to abuse it. Multiple-personality disorder is discussed and portrayed.
Violence & Scariness
Some gruesome violence, including amputated fingers and an earring ripped from an ear. Windows smashed during a struggle. Physical fighting. Dead body shown soaked in blood, with blood on surrounding walls; a blood-covered knife is displayed. A description tells of multiple stabbings, mutilation, torture. Mention of sexual abuse of minors. Video footage shows people being forced to engage in sexual activity.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Coerced, nonconsensual sex acts are seen on a videotape, including oral sex. Partial female nudity and male nudity from behind is shown.
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Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "f--king," and "f--ked" as well as "c--t." Also "s--t," "bulls--t," "s--thead," "c--ksucker," "d--k," "ass," "pissed," "whore," and "son of a bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters smoke cigarettes fairly frequently. They drink alcohol -- including spirits, wine, beer, and shots -- in bars, at events, and in homes and offices. But no one is shown to be intoxicated.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Primal Fear is a gripping courtroom thriller that features violence, institutionalized sexual abuse, and frequent strong language. The movie is centered on a grisly murder case, with Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a teen alter boy accused of murdering a priest, being defended by defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere). There are short scenes of gory violence, such as an earring being ripped from someone's ear, and descriptions of torture and child sex abuse. In video footage, characters are seen being forced to perform sex acts -- with some partial nudity depicted -- which are implied to date back to when they were minors. The language is frequent and strong, including "c--t," "c--ksucker," and variants of "f--k." Characters are shown smoking and drinking, though characters are not seen intoxicated. Abuse of power, corruption, manipulation, and dishonesty are strong themes, and the gritty tone and adult content make it unsuitable for younger viewers. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Released in 1996, this dark courtroom thriller benefits from three striking central performances. In Primal Fear, Gere makes a familiar-sounding role his own, offering more nuance than the genre typically demands. In addition, the subtle defiance and combative nature brimming beneath the surface of Linney's lawyer elevates her role above what could have been a good-cop, bad-cop dynamic between the two. It's also the movie that put Norton on the map, earning him an Oscar nomination for his first ever feature film appearance -- his intense performance expressing intricate shades of emotion with the twitch of his mouth or a flicker of an eye.
Though built on familiar tropes, the movie rises about its peers with well-thrashed-out characters at all levels, and a narrative that concentrates as keenly on the psychological drama as it does on the grisly basis for the court case or the corrupt circus that surrounds it. Debut feature director Gregory Hoblit utilizes his experience on shows such as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue and condenses it into a tense psychological thriller rich with shadowy menace and a sense of confidence that allows the impressive cast to shine.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.