Februrary 14, 2013
Edward Norton, Edward Norton, and Edward Norton
You know how I wrote a big tribute to Kevin Kline yesterday,
I praised how he dominates pretty much movie he has ever been in?
Well since today is Valentine's Day I figured I would do the
thing for my wife's favorite actor. Yes, my Valentine's Day
to my wife is a tribute to her all time favorite actor, Edward Norton.
And of course you can't even begin to praise Edward Norton without
talking about the very first movie he ever did, Primal Fear.
Have you ever seen Primal Fear? If you have, you know
exactly why I picked this movie to write about. Because
Fear is a "holy shit!" movie if ever there was one. It is one
those movies that if you don't know anything about it, if you walk into
it completely unaware of what it is and what to expect from it, it is
going to hit you so hard that your jaw will practically drop to the
floor. And I should know, because that was me the first time
saw it in 1998.
This is going to be a tough review for me to write, because as
much as I want to talk about Primal Fear, as much as I want to talk
about what makes it so unforgettable and awesome, unfortunately even
delving into what makes it so awesome will ruin it for a person who has
never seen it before. And I know that there are people out
who actually have never seen it before. Trust me, they might
not admit it, but I know they are out there.
(more time passes)
Okay, I thought about it for a little bit, and here is how I will
describe this movie to a person who has never seen it before.
Fear is the story of a choir boy from Chicago named Aaron Stampler
(Edward Norton). He doesn't really have any sort of a family,
is just a timid transient young man who has sort of been adopted by the
Catholic Church. He is quite shy, he stutters quite a bit,
really the only thing in his life is pretty much the church.
lives in a type of Catholic boys school along with the archbishop and
a bunch of other altar boys in Chicago.
Well one day the archbishop (the head of the church) in Chicago
is murdered. He is brutally killed. And, uh, I will
spare you the details. Suffice it to say that it isn't very
And who is the only suspect in the archbishop's murder?
you guessed it. It is the last person who was seen with him.
The boy who was found running from the crime scene,
and covered in blood.
The police immediately arrest a timid and frightened and terrified
young Aaron Stampler.
Aaron is arrested with the archbishop's blood all over him
And really, there is your movie. Aaron Stampler is
arrested for the archbishop's murder, and hotshot unscrupulous defense
Vail (Richard Gere) is called in to the case to defend him.
the rest of the movie is Richard Gere trying to prove that there is no
way this timid little stuttering child could have possibly done it.
And, uh, it is really good.
Martin Vail meeting this scared kid who claims he doesn't remember what
Again, I don't want to give too much of the movie away, since this is
one of those movies that sort of demands that you experience it for
yourself, but let me just talk about Edward Norton. Let us
about one of the finest acting performances in any movie that has ever
been made, shall we?
First off, I had no idea who Edward Norton was when he was nominated
for an Academy Award in 1997. His name just sort of randomly
popped up in
the 1997 Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor, and I had no idea
who the f he was or why the f anyone should care about him.
besides, wasn't Edward Norton the next door neighbor on the
Honeymooners?? Right from the start I was kind of confused
this guy even was. Apparently Primal Fear was his very first
movie, and since I never actually -saw- the movie, it seemed like he
just kind of showed up out of nowhere and suddenly everyone was talking
Here is the only thing I knew about Primal Fear and Edward Norton when
this movie came out in the theater. This will show you how
of a splash (or lack of a splash) this movie made when it originally
All I knew about Primal Fear at the time was that Norm
MacDonald made a joke about it one night on Saturday Night
was it. That was all I knew about the movie. All I
that it had been number one at the box office (for about a week), I
knew that I starred Richard Gere, and I knew that Norm MacDonald made a
joke suggesting that Richard Gere might still be putting gerbils in his
ass. Which was an old 80's urban legend that... ah... I
don't want to talk about.
The enemy of PETA
So anyway, that was it. I knew that Primal Fear was a movie.
And I knew that it was a Richard Gere movie. And I
that (historically) no one ever really gives a shit about a Richard
Gere movie. And that was about as far as it went. I
Primal Fear was one of those movies that would be around for two weeks
and then it would just sort of disappear like every other
non-Pretty-Woman Richard Gere movie.
Richard Gere explaining to Aaron why Richard Gere movies suck
And then the award nominations started coming in.
Edward Norton. Edward Norton. Edward Norton.
Edward Norton. Edward Norton. The Amazing Edward
Um, what? Who the fuck is Edward Norton?
Edward Norton was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for
And I still had no idea who he was. I wasn't
if he was even young or old. Or black or white. Or
vegetable or mineral. He was this random name who
of showed up out of nowhere.
Norton lost Best Supporting Actor that year to Cuba Gooding Jr. (from
Jerry Maguire), and honestly, I couldn't have cared less.
actually I guess
I DID care, because I liked Jerry Maguire. I was happy for
Tidwell. But in terms of Edward Norton (whoever he was)?
At that point I wasn't entirely convinced he wasn't just some joke name
that somebody had stolen from the Honeymooners.
And then, a couple of months later, somebody suggested I watch Primal
Fear. "It's awesome," my friend told me. "It's a
movie, but it's really good." "Yeah I know it has Richard
it, but you need to watch it for the other guy."
Okay, okay. Fine, whatever. Twist my arm.
I'm not really a fan of courtroom movies, but I
rented Primal Fear sometime in 1998 and I brought it home to show my
wife Diana. And we sat there to see what all the damn hype
And oh baby
To say that we were transfixed by this movie the first time we saw it
would be a gross, gross understatement. I mean, people are
transfixed by a traffic accident. This movie was like seeing
birth of a baby unicorn.
I remember after the movie, my wife just sat
there with this look on her face like she had just seen her new
favorite actor. And I will never forget what she said
turned to me and said, "I don't care what I just saw. I just
to give that Aaron kid a hug."
One day my wife is going to leave me for this grinning stuttering
idiot. I have yet to make peace with this.
Primal Fear is one of those movies that has a ton of fans
out there. It is very well known as an underrated and
memorable and awesome movie. I mean, dude, this is the movie
made Edward Norton a star. It got him an Academy Award
nomination. There may have never been a better debut movie in
history of Hollywood.
I know I am kind of stretching
the definition of "underloved" by including a movie with as many
fans as this one on my countdown. But I don't care.
Remember how I said
that Dave should be loved simply because it was "a Kevin Kline movie",
and because there just aren't enough of those. Well whatever
said about Kevin Kline, it also applies to Edward Norton. He
plain and simple the single best actor of his generation. And
what is funny is that as amazing he was in Primal Fear, you could argue
that he was even BETTER a couple of years later in American History X.
But I suppose that is a different argument for a different
If you look up Primal Fear on any movie website, you will
see that it is "a courtroom drama starring Richard Gere." But
that. This is an Edward Norton movie. I mean, yeah
Richard Gere is good in it too, and Laura Linney is in it, and she is
good too. And heck, Margie (Frances McDormand) from Fargo is
in it, and she is good in everything.
But none of them are Edward
Really, that is the single best compliment I could give
to this movie. Margie Gunderson from Fargo is in Primal Fear,
you barely even remember her. And Margie is like one of the top five
most memorable characters of the 90's. But again, Margie is
Margie, and even she is no Aaron Stampler.
If you have never watched Primal Fear before, watch it.
You are going to be amazed. If you have ever
people are such big fans of Edward Norton, if you have ever wondered
why people will watch anything he is ever in, well now you will know.
There are very few actors out there that could make my wife
Johnny Depp down to #2 on her all time favorites list. Edward
"I'm Aaron Stampler and I could use a hug" Norton is really the only
who could have done that.
To think that this guy has never won an Academy Award (and Helen Hunt
actually HAS won one!) is kind of a joke.
Oh, and if you are already a fan of Primal Fear? Well I'm
suh-suh-suh-sorry Mr. Vail maybe you should go wuh-wuh-wuh-watch it
again. Even when you nuh-nuh-nuh-know what is going to happen
st-st-still pretty awesome.
Hates tongue twisters
P.S. My apologies to all gerbils.
favorite IMDB user reviews about Primal Fear:
Just watch it - 26
DO NOT READ ANY REVIEWS!!! JUST WATCH IT!!!
If you have seen the usual suspects, you know that if someone tells you
what happens it ruins the WHOLE movie.
So stop reading.. and watch.
Meet Edward Norton - 25
thriller on par with "The Usual Suspects", "Primal Fear" is an
impressive film about one lawyer's (Richard Gere) yearning for the
spotlight. He gets his wish after an archbishop is brutally murdered in
Chicago. It appears that choir boy Edward Norton (in his first film,
Oscar-nominated) is the killer, but there is more to this case than
meets the eye. In the end, Gere is going to learn that what he thinks
he wants (fame and fortune) is not all that great because of what he
has had to go through to get there. "Primal Fear" was one of the more
interesting films of 1996, but was ignored by almost everyone. Richard
Gere does some of his best work ever. Laura Linney, John Mahoney, Alfre
Woodard, and Frances McDormand are all good in supporting roles.
However, it is Edward Norton who proved to be the discovery of the
1990s. He keeps the audience on their toes and he adds depth and
emotion to a film that would have looked much different if he had not
been in it.
Primal Fear - 31 July 2010
And the Oscar goes too....... Edward Norton!
wait I forgot. Ed Norton got robbed by Cuba Gooding Jr. Anyway, not
only is Primal Fear Ed Norton's first full-feature length film, but
it's his best. American History X and Fight Club are not far behind
But as I was saying, if you enjoy Edward Norton movies,
you will LOVE this! It's pretty much The Edward Norton Show. He runs
Richard Gere is also very good in this. But I don't
feel he deserves any special recognition. But I do think he should make
more movies like this (instead of all those chick flicks and crap).
movie definitely should have been nominated for Best Picture, it's
definitely one of the best films of the year, if not THE best.
I am kind of sad that they didn't make the book sequels after this, but
Wow... - 30 April 1999
just finished watching this movie for the fifth time, and you know
what? The ending still blows me away. This is THE best suspense film I
have ever seen. It may be somewhat slow at times, but man does the end
ever make it worthwhile.
The birth of a star and
the resurrection of another - 8 May 2004
not often that viewers get a chance to watch a star being born - that a
talented unknown actor's performance that is so spectacular it leads to
the A-list in one role is rare: Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Brad
Pitt in Thelma & Louise to name a recent few. But Edward
turn as the "defendant/victim" in Primal Fear is one of those "Wow"
moments that leaves the audience salivating for his next performance.
In this feature debut, Norton outdistances his role, as does Richard
Gere, in a resurrection no less impressive than Norton's star-making
turn. Heretofore, Gere has specialized in assorted intelligent
professional cad roles. Here, he gets a chance to inhabit one that not
only wears his dubious character on his sleeve, but wears it, drives
it, drinks it... revels in it. Yeah, sure somewhere there's a heart of
gold, but like his client, the layers on top serve him better, and the
heart of gold is tarnished. Gere is at his peak, comfortably,
cheerfully inhabiting the role.
Laura Linney deserves extra
credit for often being the ice-queen foil which propels the two male
characters' development; her own character is rather one- dimensional,
but she herself squeezes as much dazzle as she can from it. Even though
everyone else obviously falls for whatever Gere's Vail purrs into their
ears, it's merely enough time for Linney's Janet to get a drag on her
ubiquitous cigarette; another step in what will (hopefully) someday be
film's love affair with her. Wasted, sadly, are fine character actors
like John Mahoney, Steven Bauer, Maura Tierney & Andre Braugher
could have lit up the screen had they not been handed scripts with
generic character stereotypes.
See it to watch the ascension of Norton and Gere.
So that was the debut of
a genius - 9 September 2006
can't help going back to this movie again and again just to see Norton.
He did an amazing job in the transformation between the two roles. The
innocent look of Aaron, the Kentucky folk accent and the stammer would
make your heart broken for him, while the ferocious outburst of Roy,
the viciousness in his eyes and the wicked humor made him one of most
unforgettable villains in film history. Well, so that was the debut of
a genius' career. Despite the final twist, the movie proper would need
much more work to improve the storyline and the dynamics. However,
because of Norton, it had a permanent place in the film history. As a
matter of fact, it was solely a Norton movie.
wow - 22 April 2001
art of the good suspense film often seems lost, but Primal Fear manages
to grasp that art and milk it for all it's worth. For start to finish,
it offers a brand of "hold your breath"-ness that really grabs you and
As an actor, Edward Norton (Aaron/Roy) never ceases to
amaze me. He's different in everything I see him in, and this is no
exception. To see him morph from mild-mannered alter boy Aaron into
terrorizing Roy and back again is something that makes you think, "If I
were in Richard Gere's place, I'd be afraid for my life." Definitely a
Wow... - 28 June 2005
thought 'Primal Fear' was going great when the first little twist hit.
I wasn't expecting it, and having that first fascinating twist sprung
on me really made the movie just a little better. Edward Norton's Aaron
was an absolutely adorable altar boy with a Kentucky drawl and stutter
that just made you love him more, and then he was Roy, angry, brash and
I don't even have
words to express how much I liked this movie. The courtroom scenes
weren't boring and drawn out and just when you think it's all resolved
and justice has been done, 'Primal Fear' turns completely around and
you are left thinking "Oh my God... what the... AWESOME!" I seriously
urge Edward Norton fans, psychological thriller fans and film fans in
general to rent (or buy) this film.
favorite trivia about Primal Fear:
* This is Edward Norton's motion picture debut.
* Edward Norton ad-libbed much of his dialogue and his actions in the
movie. In particular, when he shoves Vail (Richard
Gere) against the prison cell wall, Gere's shocked reaction is genuine
because that was not planned.
* According to the Blu-ray behind-the-scenes information, it was
Edward Norton's idea to stutter as Aaron, as it appeared nowhere in
the original book or script.
* When trying out for the role of the altar boy, Edward Norton went
into the audition in character, complete with stutters and all, and
this won his role.
* 2,100 actors auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler - Matt Damon
was one of them.
* Both Wil Wheaton and Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the part of Aaron
Stempler. Wheaton turned down the role because he didn't want to put
off his acting school and when his manager urged him to take the role
anyway he told him "It is like Luke Skywalker when Yoda told him not to
go and save his friends but to stay on Dagobah and learn to be a Jedi
instead. Luke didn't listen to him and that's why he never became true
Jedi master." Later Wil Wheaton regretted turning this role down,
saying that this was a crucial factor why his career never got to be a
* According to the Blu-ray behind the scenes information, the ending
exposition was running over 6 pages, and the writers realized that
would take far too long. Richard Gere and Edward Norton began to improv
with it - encouraged by the director and writer - and pared the scene
down to less than 2 pages with a much crisper ending.
favorite scene in Primal Fear:
Few things in movie history can top a really good slow clap.
at the IMDB
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