Metascore
47

Mixed or average reviews - based on 18 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 6 out of 18
  2. Negative: 3 out of 18
  1. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    50
    The major jolt is saved for the very end but, like much else in the film, it is overexplained and underlined when more simplicity and quiet would have provided the revelation with the power of a depth charge.
  2. 88
    The plot is as good as crime procedurals get, but the movie is really better than its plot because of the three-dimensional characters.
  3. Reviewed by: Barbara Shulgasser
    75
    This is the sort of movie that doesn't become irritating even when it's predictable.
  4. 50
    Despite high production standards and a slick advertising campaign, Primal Fear is as trite and routine as any made-for-TV courtroom drama.
  5. The violent story is long on nastiness, short on credibility.
  6. 12
    You'd get more of a jolt from Angela Lansbury on "Murder, She Wrote" and more intellectual stimulation from a cozy game of Clue.
  7. Reviewed by: Staff (Non Credited)
    50
    The sky-high sleaze quotient -- lascivious priests, amateur porn movies, teenage hustlers and institutionalized corruption of every kind -- ought to guarantee fun for all, but heavy messages keep poking through and spoiling everything.
  8. Reviewed by: Alison Macor
    50
    Norton's performance and the well-paced tension preceding the movie's climactic sequence provide an entertaining if slightly predictable thriller.
  9. Reviewed by: Ken Tucker
    58
    Gere taps into his charismatic-weasel mode, but director Gregory Hoblit fills the big screen with excellent TV actors (Andre Braugher, John Mahoney, Maura Tierney) and then gives them nothing interesting to do.
  10. A tight courtroom melodrama that serves up twist after twist like so many baffling knuckle balls, this film handles its suspenseful material with skill and style.
  11. 80
    A crackling courtroom drama with more twists than O.J. had alibis.
  12. The special twist-which Paramount Pictures has implored critics not to divulge-redefines the story completely. It also ruins everything.
  13. Reviewed by: Andrew Ross
    10
    It should have been sent straight to video. As a courtroom drama, it stumbles from one ludicrous howler to another. Were the movie's "legal technical advisers" on another planet while the rest of the world was learning about legal procedure courtesy of the O.J. trial?
  14. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    75
    As a forum for its actors and for the big-screen directorial debut of multi-Emmy winner Gregory Hoblit, the film is up to the job.
  15. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    50
    Diverting without being fully absorbing, this is a film best appreciated as an exercise in--shall we say it?--Primal Gere. [15 Apr 1996, p.100]
  16. Pared down to a farfetched plot and paper-thin motives, the story relies on an overload of tangential subplots to keep it looking busy. [3 Apr 1996, p.C15]
User Score
8.5

Universal acclaim- based on 70 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 18
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 18
  3. Negative: 0 out of 18
  1. May 3, 2013
    9
    Chock-full of dazzling "holy sh*t" moments, "Primal Fear" not only delivers intrigue as a fascinating courtroom drama would, but it alsoChock-full of dazzling "holy sh*t" moments, "Primal Fear" not only delivers intrigue as a fascinating courtroom drama would, but it also shocks you the way a gripping thriller would. Full Review »
  2. Sep 29, 2011
    7
    "Primal Fear" is just a average lawyer thriller. But, as Tom Cruise did in "Jerry Maguire", it's the superb acting by Edward Norton that"Primal Fear" is just a average lawyer thriller. But, as Tom Cruise did in "Jerry Maguire", it's the superb acting by Edward Norton that changes the tables of the movie's tone. Full Review »
  3. May 16, 2011
    8
    A really good psychological thriller supported by some brilliant performances by the lead actors. Don't get carried away by 47% rating forA really good psychological thriller supported by some brilliant performances by the lead actors. Don't get carried away by 47% rating for critics will not appreciate a good movie even if it comes and bite their bum. Watch it to believe it and definitely don't miss the last scene. Full Review »