Hoping to continue raising his public profile, successful defense attorney Martin Vail (Gere) volunteers to represent Aaron Stampler (Norton), a Kentucky teenager arrested for the brutal murder of a Chicago archbishop, and faces off against assistant DA Janet Venable (Linney), his former paramour. Things get even more complicated for Vail when a psychologist (McDormand) concludes that Stampler has multiple-personality disorder.
One of Gere's more intriguing efforts, "Primal Fear" features the A-lister as a cynical attorney whose client, a Southern altar boy with a troubled mental-health history, forces him to reassess his ethics. Genuinely spooky and suspenseful, this riveting police procedural is also notable as the launching pad for an intense young New York actor named Ed Norton, who won an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. There's nothing to fear here except "Fear" itself.