Primal Fear

A semiabsorbing courtroom thriller, based on William Diehl’s novel, about a poor Chicago altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of murdering an archbishop and defended by a hotshot defense attorney (Richard Gere). Scripted by Steve Shagan (Hustle) and Ann Biderman (Copycat) and directed by first-timer Gregory Hoblit, the movie coasts along reasonably well as a mystery until it gets snarled in some double-talk about psychopathology toward the end. The leading charactersincluding the prosecutor (Laura Linney), the judge (Alfre Woodard), and a corrupt government official (John Mahoney)never quite convince, but this matters as little as characterizations do in most mysteries, and the plot keeps one interested in any case. With Frances McDormand. (JR)

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