One Angry Man: Primal Fear and the art of the Gunderson

This is the worst DVD cover of all time. And that tagline. Oy.


I spent another night on stand-by to be called in for my jury duty summons so I decided to keep going with my theme of jury movies. I took a quick look at the IMDb page for keyword: jury and saw 1996’s courtroom thriller Primal Fear. This is one of those movies that I’ve always been meaning to watch, but there’s never really a strong enough reason. These almost reasons include: “Oh I’ll need to watch that on my quest to see every Best Supporting Actor nominee.”; “How did Laura Linney get famous?”; “Primal Fear has a surprisingly high IMDb score. I should check that out.” But none of these are real get-up-and-go reasons to watch it. So I’m sorry, but To Kill A Mockingbird won’t be making my marathon of jury movies, but Primal Fear will.

Let me first state that I feel sorely robbed in that no juror even has a line let alone any real references to the jury besides a verdict. I do feel cheated as a potential future juror. However, I’m so glad I watched this movie. Primal Fear really takes the courtroom drama genre and elevates it to something more interesting. A regular drama. The courtroom elements are so tangential to my enjoyment of this movie that I can barely consider it one. Sure there are objections sustained and cross examinations, and like most courtroom dramas you kind of already know what the verdict is going to be before the case even starts. The big difference here is all of the characters actually learn something on the way.

Please don’t drop your opera glasses! I know this is shocking, but stay with me. Richard Gere’s ultra-slick lawyer is possibly the most boring character you’d ever want to meet. A little perspective actually makes this performance more fun because it’s the exact kind of role he later parodies in Chicago. I won’t give away what this character learns, because y’know, that’s the point of watching the movie, but he goes through a change I like to call “The Gunderson.”

IMPORTANT TANGENT: Whenever I have to justify that Police Chief Marge Gunderson is indeed the lead character of Fargo and no one else matters (so this is everyday to my mirror and zero times in real life), I use this very argument. For 98% of the plot of Fargo, it’s mostly a ridiculous and wonderful crime black comedy. However, in the last few moments of the movie, she is so disillusioned and confused by this act of malice. The change in her character is so tiny, like an hour hand moving over the course of a minute on a clock. But it’s there. And you can’t deny you don’t see it in Frances McDormand’s face. For further research, the same thing happens at the end of Compliance with Ann Dowd’s store manager.

So Richard Gere’s character goes through a “Gunderson” change (even though it is telegraphed a teensy bit more) and this is important. You know that Laura Linney goes through a change because she smokes at the end, the ’90s movie way of saying, “What a day! I need to think.”

Here’s just a few stray thoughts that I can’t connect in any way, but I don’t need to. This is my blog.

1) I hope I’m not on a jury like this one. I won’t get to do anything.

2) Edward Norton steals the show and in every way deserves this nomination.

3) I want Frances McDormand to be my therapist. Not her character Molly, the real life Frances McDormand.

4) The movie is highly rated on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, but it has a paltry 47 on Metacritic. I is confused.

Question: Is Primal Fear in the top 10 movies Richard Gere has made? Definitely. Alfre Woodard? Certainly. She needs better movies. Edward Norton? He’s only been in 27 movies and one of them was Death to Smoochy. So Yes. Laura Linney? Yup. Frances McDormand? Probably not. My that woman has such a great resumé!

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