Watch Primal Fear

"Sooner or later, a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real."

Primal Fear is a dramatic crime thriller, which follows the murder case of a prominent Archbishop in Chicago. Slick defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) sees an opportunity to increase his public profile when the police arrest Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a stuttering and simpleminded altar boy who was found running from the crime scene in blood-splattered clothes. Vail offers the young man a pro bono defense out of a desire for the spotlight, but then begins to believe in the young man's innocence. The case also places him in opposition to the city prosecutor, Janet Venable (Laura Linney), his former girlfriend.

As he prepares for trial, Vail begins to uncover surprising information about the victim, Archbishop Rushman (Stanley Anderson), including death threats against him because he refused to sell Church land that cost the mayor, regional governor and District Attorney John Shaughnessy (John Mahoney) millions of dollars. There are also rumors that the archbishop molested altar boys, which Vail confirms with the discovery of a videotape he finds in the archbishop's apartment. A psychiatrist, Molly Arrington (Frances McDormand), examines Aaron and believes he has multiple personality disorder. During a confrontational meeting with his client, Vail meets "Roy," Aaron's alternate personality who not only confesses to the murder, but also physically attacks Vail.

Since the trial is already in progress, Vail resorts to courtroom tricks to reveal this new information. He sends Janet a copy of the videotape anonymously, knowing she will use it as evidence. He then puts Aaron on the stand and questions him about the abuse from his father and the archbishop. When Janet cross-examines Aaron, he transforms into Roy on the stand and tries to strangle her. Judge Shoat (Alfre Woodard) has no choice but to dismiss the jury and change the case into a bench trial. She rules Aaron not guilty due to insanity.

In the final scene, Vail visits Aaron in his jail cell, while he awaits transfer to a mental hospital and Aaron has one last revealing surprise for his attorney.

R
| 1996 | 2 hr 10 min | 7.7/10
Cast
Studio
Director
Gregory Hoblit
Language
English
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