The film is about a young altar boy, Aaron (played by Norton) who is accused of brutally murdering the archbishop of Chicago. Aaron is this shy and quiet, stuttering little fish outta water southerner, who couldnt possibly have been capable of the crime, but has an impossible amount of evidence against him. Unfortunately, I cant really get into too much detail about what makes his performance so a-\m/-mazing without giving some MAJOR spoilers. However, if you're interested, ping me and I'll let you in. I just feel the movie will have a better shock value impact if you dont know.
Although, it was the full spoilerific plot that got me into the film. Not long after beginning my worship at the altar of Chuck Palahniuk once I'd first seen Fight Club, a friend recommended Primal Fear because of Ed Norton. He laid out the plot, the twist, and the end. I could not get my hands on the movie soon enough. Now for me, Norton's performance was all I needed to really love it, but I think it may have been even more impactful if I went in clueless.
Norton isnt the only great actor in the cast. You've also got Richard Gere as his lawyer, basically playing Billy Flynn but without the singing and dancing. There's Laura Linney as the prosecuting attourney (she's also on my list of faves as a result of this film), and the ever amazing Frances McDormand as the psychiatrist analyzing Aaron.
While a lot of it does involve the trial, its not much of a courtroom thriller. You really dont spend as much tiem in the courtroom as I think you'd need in order to classify it as such. But its also not much of a procedural since you dont really see the investigation. It's really more of a mystery, where the biggest questions are about the characters. Yeah, kinda awkward to classify. But please, just take my word for it that this is really a must see that I cant possibly recommend enough.
I read the book too. I dont remember too much about the book (vs the film) although I know we got a lot more backstory on Aaron.