Edward Norton's motion picture debut back in 1996 is his best performance to date. The movie is called Primal Fear, and, in my opinion, it is not only one of the most underrated films of the past twenty years, but it is also one of the best courtroom dramas I've ever seen. That is, in large part, due to Norton's performance, but it is still a great film nonetheless.

In the movie, Norton plays a teenage altar boy who is accused of murdering the archbishop. That is all the plot details I'm going to give because to say too much about the storyline would be a crime. Just see the film.

The character that Norton creates is easily one of the most memorable characters in courtroom drama history. And what's even more remarkable about all of this is that it's a supporting performance. Sure, he's on screen a lot, but Richard Gere is the lead actor here. Gere is very good in the film, but Norton is in another league. For a supporting performance to have this much impact is truly special.

It's a shame that I couldn't watch this performance back in 1996 because I would've loved to watch it as his debut. I knew how good of an actor he was before I watched
Primal Fear for this first time, but this is still the performance of his that has had the most impact on me. Anyone who sees the film will have to agree. For an actor to pull off a role with such boldness and confidence in his debut is something rarely seen in the movies.

Edward Norton did receive an Oscar nomination for this role, his second to date, the other one being in
American History X. However, Norton lost out on an Oscar to Cuba Gooding Jr. I am still steaming on this one. Jerry Maguire is a perfectly fine film, and
Cuba is perfect for his role in the movie, but his performance is just not nearly as difficult as Norton’s. We sense that Cuba could’ve pulled that role off in his sleep. But Norton’s transformation…It reminds me a little bit of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. I am likely to dedicate one of these articles to Day-Lewis after I have given There Will Be Blood another watch, but his performance reminds me of Norton because they both play roles that don't seem humanly possible. They are on different planets. There are the recognizable voice and posture changes, but there are also the mannerisms that they both embody the character with. It's a marvel to watch.

With all that being said, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of mainstream moviegoers out there haven't even heard of
Primal Fear. I stand by the fact that it is one of the most underrated films I've ever seen, and, as a result, hasn't had much staying power since its release. I also wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Norton fans out there haven’t seen this film. For all those Norton fans who have only seen movies such as Fight Club, The Incredible Hulk, and some of his other more recent work, please give Primal Fear a watch. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll be blown away.


J. Michael Antoni said...

greatest performance of all-time even though not my faavorite Norton movie, what a twist. Gere was okay and the woman lawyer was terible. This article was too short I could have read a whole novel on this performance unlike the terrible Mickey Rourke article, that one was too long after the first sentence. And Cuba Gooding Jr. Should have never won that Oscar.

CS said...

This film never got the proper respect it deserved. There are so many subtle things about Norton's performance that it demands repeat viewings.

Rae Kasey said...

I just watched Primal Fear based on your take on Norton's performance and I have to agree that he was phenomenal.

By my count he should have two Oscars by now. I agree this role was more difficult than Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire and there is no doubt that his turn in American History X was a hundred times more powerful than Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful.

Hopefully he'll get his due one of these days.

Danny King said...

@ CS: I definitely agree. I believe I have seen the film four times and I notice new things every time I watch it.

@ Rae: Thanks for valuing my opinion, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I have a feeling when Norton's next great performance comes out, he could be a shoo-in for an Oscar because the Academy loves to award actors that haven't won yet -- like they did with Kate Winslet last year.

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