[[caption-width-right:300:Not intended to be a [[AmoralAttorney lawyer joke]].]]

->'''Reporter''': ''Marty, you are a master of putting the victim on trial to help your own client. That is going to be very difficult in this case.''\\
'''Marty''': ''The victim in this case'' is ''my client.''

''Primal Fear'' is a 1996 crime drama, directed by Gregory Hoblit and [[FilmOfTheBook based on a novel of the same name]] by William Diehl.

AmoralAttorney Martin Vail (Creator/RichardGere) defends an altar boy, Aaron Stampler (Creator/EdwardNorton), accused of the brutal murder of an archbishop. Vail's ex-girlfriend, Janet Venable (Creator/LauraLinney), is prosecuting the case. At first only interested in the publicity of the case, Vail soon discovers that there is more to the case than meets the eye.

The movie proved to be Norton's StarMakingRole.

Not to be confused with [[PrimalFear the trope]] of the same name, with which [[NonIndicativeName it has little to do]].

Also, as the movie is a series of {{Reveal}}s, spoilers will be problematic.

'''Warning: Expect every example to be a spoiler for something. ''Proceed at your own risk.'''''

!The film contains examples of the following tropes:

* AmbulanceChaser: Martin takes on Aaron’s case because it is very high-profile. He assumes Janet has the same motives.
--> '''Marty''': “Tell me, counselor: which one of us is the true headline chaser?”
* AmoralAttorney: A {{Deconstruction}} of this trope.
** On the cynical hand, Vail knows that guilty people often have loads of money to spend on expensive legal aid.
--->'''Marty:''' First thing that I ask a new client is "Have you been saving up for a rainy day? Guess what? ''It's rain-ing!''"
** On the idealistic hand, Vail also believes in the system and its ability to protect the innocent from wrongful punishment.
--->'''Marty:''' I believe in the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty. I believe in that notion because I choose to believe in the basic goodness of people. I choose to believe that not all crimes are committed by bad people. And I try to understand that some very, very good people do some very bad things.
** And on the realistic hand, the fact that the system ''is'' designed to place the protection of the innocent over the punishment of the guilty means that inevitably more than a few monsters ''will'' get off '''scot-free''' - [[spoiler:Aaron Stampler is only able to get away with his insanity plea with Vail's assistance. A grisly multiple murderer thus ducks the needle.]]
--->'''[[spoiler:Aaron Stampler]]:''' Don't be like that, Marty. We did it, man. We fucking did it. We're a great team, you and me. You think I could've done this without you?
* AssholeVictim: [[spoiler: Archbishop Rushman is revealed to be one when his video is found]].
** [[spoiler: Aaron/Roy claims Linda was as well, [[UnreliableExpositor but it’s unclear how true that is,]] especially considering Rushman was coercing her into having sex with multiple guys.]]
* TheBadGuyWins: [[spoiler:Aaron played everyone for a fool and escapes punishment.]]
* BatmanGambit: Marty twice does this to Janet, and [[DiscussedTrope each time they discuss this trope]].
** Marty sends Janet [[spoiler: the archbishop’s HomePornMovie]], knowing she needs it to establish motive and hoping it will gain Aaron sympathy from the jury. She [[ExploitedTrope recognizes Marty’s strategy but knowingly follows through]], foiling his plan by portraying Aaron as understandably vengeful rather than understandably crazy.
--->'''Janet''': “You think you’ve got me? You think because you know me as well as you do, you know how I think. Well, [[OutGambitted I know how]] '''[[OutGambitted you]]''' [[OutGambitted think]].”
** Marty then puts Aaron on the stand, expecting Janet to interrogate him harshly and hoping that [[spoiler: Roy will emerge.]]
--->'''Janet''': “You knew, didn’t you? You knew if I went after him, [[spoiler: he’d wig out up there.]] … You used me.”
--->'''Marty''': “Yeah, I did. I had no choice. And what did I use that was so terrible? I knew you’d do your job. I knew you’d stand up to Shaughnessy. I knew you’d try to win the case. [[AskAStupidQuestion What’s wrong with that?]]”
--->'''Janet''': “You cost me my ''[[PrecisionFStrike fucking]]'' job!”
* BreakTheCutie: Aaron [[spoiler:[[SubvertedTrope appears to be this, until the film's twist]]]].
* BreakTheHaughty: Martin Vail is a selfish, jerkass attorney who thinks he's smarter than everyone and takes cases based on profit and fame. [[spoiler: But by the end of the film, he is led to care about a guy (Roy) who was playing him for a fool from the beginning. The final shot of Vail before the ending credits says it all.]]
* TheButcher: Aaron is dubbed “The Butcher Boy.”
-->'''Marty''': “[[SarcasmMode Yes, thank you. I forgot that was his real name]].”
* CigaretteOfAnxiety: Despite Janet's rough encounter with Roy, Judge Shoat won’t let Janet have a cigarette in her chambers. But as soon as Shoat leaves, [[DoubleSubversion Janet lights up anyway]].
* ClearMyName: Aaron claims to be innocent and [[spoiler:Vail eventually comes to believe him, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the fact that most people think he's guilty. He's wrong.]]
* CorruptChurch: The archbishop records his sermon for the upcoming Sunday, and then [[spoiler: forces homeless youth to have sex with each other while he records it]]. It’s also suggested that the Church was involved in some shady land deals.
* DownerEnding: [[spoiler:Martin ends up helping a brutal killer play the legal system with success and escape conviction for murder. Martin and everyone else attached to the case is disillusioned by the outcome, or don't care anymore. The film ends as he leaves the courtroom building through the side door, not wanting to face the press. He stops to contemplate, and MyGodWhatHaveIDone is written all over his face.]]
* EvilAllAlong: [[spoiler: Aaron was a monster right from the start. His meek persona was all a lie.]]
* ExtremeDoormat: Aaron. [[spoiler: Or so it seems]].
* FaceOfAnAngelMindOfADemon: A number of characters accuse Aaron of using his innocent, "boy scout" like appearance to hide his violent personality. [[spoiler: They're right.]]
* FatalFlaw: [[spoiler: Martin Vail's narcissism.]]
* FoeRomanceSubtext: Marty and Janet. Shaughnessy [[InvokedTrope assigns Janet to the case, because he knows she and Marty used to date]].
* {{Foreshadowing}}: The closest Aaron comes [[spoiler: to breaking character]] in his first meeting with Marty is when Marty comments how kind it was for Archbishop Rushman to allow Aaron to stay at Savior House past his 19th birthday. Aaron hesitates for a moment and then simply says, “Yes… Yes, it was.”
** During Roy's first appearance, [[spoiler: he looks at Martin Vail to see if he is buying the split personality act. When it's clear that he is, Roy says: "I got you figured out".]]
* FreudianExcuse: [[spoiler: Aaron supposedly created Roy to protect him from his abusive father, and Roy emerges anytime Aaron feels extremely threatened]].
** Keep in mind, though, that [[spoiler: Dissociative Identity Disorder in the real world is believed to arise from child abuse, a fact that few movies depicting the condition recognize--ironically, given that this movie ultimately suggests Aaron does ''not'' have the disorder.]]
* GollumMadeMeDoIt: What Aaron claims is going on. [[spoiler: Until we find out otherwise in the finale.]]
* GoodLawyersGoodClients: {{Averted}}. Marty defended a drug dealer before, but he seems to really believe that everyone is entitled to the best defense they can have, and gives Aaron[[spoiler: (who turns out to be even worse)]] his services free (although it's also good publicity).
* {{Gorn}}: Rushman’s murdered and mangled body.
* GreyAndGrayMorality; In spades, and pretty much one of the main topic of the movie. [[spoiler: Aaron really is a complete monster, but he actually had a very strong motive for his murders. Marty behaves like a very regular cynical laywer, and makes no mystery of his love for money and fame, but he ends making his idealism and naivety get in the way of his work. Archbishop Rushman abused young homeless by forcing them to have sex in front of him with the threat of putting them back on the street, but we learn that he helped a whole neighborhood of mostly poor squatters when Shaughnessy was planning to requalify it and evict them in the process. Pretty much only Shaughnessy is a complete asshole, and even if he ultimately had no connection at all with the murders, he indirectly caused it by not exposing Rushman's abuses when he had the chance.]]
--> [[spoiler: '''Roy''': But killing that son of a bitch Rushman—that was a fuckin’ work of art.]]
* HangingJudge: Hangin' Harry Shoat.
* HollywoodLaw:
** The film implies that Aaron "gets away" with murder because of his insanity defense. In reality, he'd likely be committed and spend the rest of his life in a mental institution, with actually ''fewer'' legal rights than on death row or serving a life sentence.
** SplitPersonality is actually ''not'' considered a valid insanity defense in most places. It's not even recognized as a mental illness by many psychiatrists (who know that patients can fake it, consciously or not).
** Also, the film neglects the fact that Aaron hasn't been acquitted at the end. Martin just agreed with the judge to retry it as a bench trial, where she would consider his insanity defense alone, without a jury. True, he can't reveal the movie's twist [[spoiler: (that Aaron was faking it)]], but there's still no guarantee he'll actually get off, as the insanity defense only works in about one fourth of the cases where it's used. Even if he did, as stated above people acquitted on the ground of insanity usually wind up living out the rest of their life in a mental institution.
*** This is handled differently in the books, where Aaron holds a grudge against Marty for sending him to the loony bin by pleading insanity instead of sticking to the "poor, abused altar boy" story and using the sex tape to soften up the jury. Given ten years, he charms and works himself into a position where he can leave the institution at will, though, and escapes for revenge.
* HomePornMovie: One is discovered that puts the case in a whole new light.
* HydePlaysJekyll: [[spoiler: Technically {{subverted}}, since the "Jekyll" personality (Aaron) never existed to begin with-the Hyde (Roy) was making him up the whole time.]]
* INeverSaidItWasPoison: [[spoiler: Aaron slips by asking Vail to tell Venable he's sorry about her neck. But he shouldn't be able to remember he attacked her neck, since it was supposedly "Roy" who did it while Aaron blacked out. However, it's left open as to whether Aaron intentionally showed his hand so he could gloat with impunity.]]
* JerkWithAHeartOfGold: Marty truly cares for both Aaron and Piñero.
* TheJudge: [[BlackBossLady Judge Miriam Shoat.]]
* KilledOffscreen: [[spoiler: Aaron reveals that he killed his girlfriend Linda, [[TheGhost who is mentioned several times but never appears on-screen, aside from a recorded video]].]]
* KnowWhenToFoldEm: [[spoiler: Janet agrees to a mistrial, recognizing that neither she nor anyone in the DA’s office would want to try this case]].
* ManipulativeBastard: Martin Vail is really good as manipulating people to win his cases. [[spoiler: A better example is Roy, who was able to create a meek persona for years, and flawlessly manipulates even his own lawyer to cheat the justice system.]]
* MasterActor: [[spoiler:Aaron Stampler.]]
* MyGodWhatHaveIDone: The look of horror on [[spoiler: Marty's]] face as he processes [[spoiler: Aaron/Roy's confession]] says it all.
* NoodleIncident: Marty quit the State’s Attorney's office after Shaughnessy ordered him to do something against his conscience, but Marty never specifies what that was.
* ObfuscatingStupidity: [[spoiler: Aaron portrays himself as a wholesome but not-too-bright farm boy with a stutter. He further claims that he found Hawthorne too hard to follow, so he couldn’t have underlined the passage.]]
* PedophilePriest: Technically averted, though the truth is still pretty despicable. [[spoiler: Archbishop Rushman apparently only targets those in the youth home who have reached legal maturity, threatening them with expulsion if they don’t perform in his HomePornMovie.]]
* ThePerryMasonMethod: A variation, [[ExploitedTrope set up by Vail in order to prove Aaron's innocence]]; the prosecution badgers Aaron in an attempt to get him to confess, which causes [[spoiler:Aaron's split personality to show up and attack her]].
** [[spoiler: At least, that's what Aaron ''wanted'' you to think happened.]]
* PoliceBrutality: Marty states that the police almost killed Piñero on one occasion, [[spoiler: and it’s heavily implied that it was the police who ultimately killed him]].
* PrecisionFStrike: Roy's first appearance is him frustratingly asking the psychologist, “How the ''fuck'' should I know?”
* QuipToBlack: This exchange at the end of a scene:
-->'''Naomi''': “What does he look like—in person?”\\
'''Martin''': “[[EmbarrassingNickname The Butcher Boy]]? Like a boy scout.”\\
'''Tommy''': “A boy scout. With a merit badge in carving.”
* RapeByProxy: [[spoiler: The archbishop forced three young people to have sex on camera for him]].
* TheReveal:
** Reveal #1: [[spoiler:Aaron says that he "[[MissingTime loses time]]" when severely stressed.]]
** Reveal #2: [[spoiler:Vail discovers a HomePornMovie where the archbishop [[RapeByProxy coerced Aaron and another young man to have sex with a girl on camera]]. The archbishop was an AssholeVictim of the most [[RapeIsASpecialKindOfEvil special kind]]. The tape is a SmokingGun that both serves to make Aaron sympathetic to the jury and provide a motive for the murder.]]
** Reveal #3: [[spoiler:Aaron appears to have another personality, the psychotic Roy, who admits to killing the archbishop out of revenge, and it is implied that his condition is caused by AbusiveParents.]]
** Reveal #4: [[spoiler:In the last scene of the movie, Aaron admits to have been only pretending to have a split personality - and it's the kind personality, not the violent one, that's fake. "Roy" gloats about killing both the archbishop and his girlfriend, who was also molested by the archbishop-and says that she had it coming.]]
* SarcasmMode: Janet’s tone throughout much of her cross examination of the psychologist.
-->'''Janet''': “Oh I know, Doctor. It was ''[[ImaginaryFriend Roy]]''.”
* SarcasticClapping: Aaron eerily does this at the end of the movie , when [[spoiler:the attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere), and us, the audience, discover that Aaron has been faking his split personality/insanity for the entire film-he is actually sane. However, due to attorney-client confidentiality, even when Vail now knows the truth he's powerless to do anything, as Ed Norton's character mocks him creepily from his cell.]]
* SinisterMinister: Archbishop Rushman.
* SmokingGun: Rushman’s sex tape.
* StutteringIntoEloquence: Aaron stutters almost every other word, except [[spoiler:when he is (pretending to be) the much more aggressive "Roy"]].
* TeenGenius: Aaron, possibly. At least, he's able to [[spoiler: fool Vail and everyone else in order to get away with murder]].
* TemptingFate: Piñero refuses to leave town, despite the threat of [[PoliceBrutality police violence]], claiming, “How can they kill a man who doesn’t sleep?”
* UnwittingPawn: [[spoiler:At the end, Vail realizes he just helped a cold-blooded murderer get away with it.]]
* WalkingSpoiler: [[spoiler: Roy.]]
* WhamLine: [[spoiler:Right at the end Martin figures out that Aaron has tricked the court, and asks why he invented his killer personality "Roy". Aaron corrects his assumption.]]
-->'''[[spoiler:Aaron]]:''' [[spoiler:There never was an "Aaron," counselor. (wink)]]
* YourApprovalFillsMeWithShame: [[spoiler:Vail is thoroughly disgusted by the fact that Aaron tells him "[they] fucking did it" about getting him off scot-free.]]