Cape Fear (1991) – Review

3 Stars

Cape Fear is a mostly successful psychological thriller from Martin Scorsese. This remake of the 1962 film of the same name that starred Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, casts Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro in the same roles, respectively. Re-using a thunderous score from Elmer Bernstein and working from a taunt script courtesy of scribe Wesley Stick, who adapted the original screenplay which was also based on a novel by John D. MacDonald, Scorsese builds a film of increasing intensity until the whole thing gets so over-heated by the final reel that the story veers into melodrama.

14 years ago Max Caddy (Robert DeNiro) was convicted of brutally raping an underage girl, his legal counselor Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) was appointed by the state and tried unsuccessfully to get the guilty man off. During the course of investigation, Bowden buried evidence that called into question the sexual history of the minor. Sensing that this character flaw may result in letting a predator walk free, Bowden chose to keep these facts under wraps and not submit the discovery as part of the trial. In doing so Caddy was sentence to a long prison term, where his rage boiled every day for retribution against the lawyer and his family.

Now free on probation, Caddy’s personal mission is to antagonize and frighten Bowden’s family (Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis) until they come unglued. The situation escalates from small annoyances to trespassing, into full-blown homicidal rage. The police are helpless and Bowden must depend on himself to protect his loved ones from the ever lurking and very dangerous ex-con.

Scorsese’s tendency to go overboard is realized both figuratively and literally in the film’s over-the-top finale set on a houseboat in a raging storm. DeNiro’s quirky portrayal of the loony Max Caddy is a sight to behold. His scene with the young Juliet Lewis is disturbing and masterfully acted, directed and edited. Scorsese is a known film buff and his love for the source film is palpable, this retooling isn’t always successful, (particularly when it uses old-fashioned techniques that are simply outdated and awkward), but it has its own personality and (guilty) pleasures for audiences in the right mood.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Juliette Lewis,

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