[[caption-width-right:250:Not intended to be a [[AmoralAttorney lawyer joke]]]]

''Primal Fear'' is a 1996 crime drama, directed by Gregory Hoblit.

AmoralAttorney Martin Vail (Creator/RichardGere) defends an altar boy (Creator/EdwardNorton), accused of the brutal murder of an archbishop. Vail, at first only interested in the publicity of the case, soon discovers that there is more to the case than meets the eye.

The movie proved to be Norton's career-launching role.

Not to be confused with [[PrimalFear the trope]] of the same name, with which 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:

* 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.
--->'''Martin Vail:''' 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.
--->'''Martin Vail:''' 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: The archbishop is revealed to be one when his video is found]].
* BatmanGambit: [[spoiler: When Aaron Stampler takes the stand, Martin Vail baits the prosecutor into going after him, hoping that Roy will come out and prove to everybody that split-personality disorder exist. It works when Aaron conveniently turns into Roy and violently attacks the prosecutor. Of course we find out later it was all an act. "It was like we were dancing, Marty".]]
* BreakTheCutie: Aaron [[spoiler:[[SubvertedTrope appears to be this, until the film's twist]]]].
* 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 is guilty. He's wrong.]]
* 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]].
* 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).
* 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.
** 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.
* HomePornMovie: One is discovered that puts the case in a whole new light.
* HydePlaysJekyll: [[spoiler:Subverted. It was all an act]].
* 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]].
* 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: Martin's]] face as he processes [[spoiler: Aaron/Roy's confession]] says it all.
* ThePerryMasonMethod: A variation, 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.]]
* 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 urged 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.]]
* SarcasticClapping: "Aaron" (Creator/EdwardNorton) 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.]]
* 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]].
* UnwittingPawn: [[spoiler:At the end, Vail realizes he just helped a cold-blooded murderer get away with it.]]
* 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.]]
* YourApprovalFillsMeWithShame: [[spoiler:Vail is thoroughly disgusted by the fact that Aaron tells him "[they] fucking did it" about getting him off scot-free.]]