johnlink ranks CAPE FEAR (1991)

I plan on watching the original CAPE FEAR from 1962, but have been sitting on the remake for way too long. With us returning from Fios to the satellite tomorrow, I was running out of time before my DVR was blown up.


I watched CAPE FEAR (1991) on 8.6.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Martin Scorsese doesn’t really do remakes. He doesn’t need to. So much of his film canon is littered with homage to cinema history. So when he decided to take on this remake (with much urging from one Mr. Steven Spielberg) Scorsese went full boar. He brings back original stars Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum for cameos. The score he uses is a mimic of the original Bernard Herrmann score. This proves somewhat dissonant in the opening moments as we see a modern image of Max Cady (Robert De Niro) tattooed while hearing the strings so famously associated with Hermann’s Hitchcock collaborations.

But Scorsese doesn’t just borrow Hitchcock’s composer. The way he uses light, especially in a scene when Mr. and Mrs. Bowden (Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange) make love, is a straight throwback to similar color effects used in films like VERTIGO. While Scorsese also uses an X-Ray effect at multiple moments to modernize this, the reaction of the audience is the same.

This is a film which has the newly freed Cady out of prison and  seeking revenge upon his defense attorney, Bowden. Bowden’s wife and 15 year old daughter (Juliette Lewis) are also targets, but mostly as a way of getting at Bowden himself.

What is fascinating about the writing of this movie is to consider when Cady tells the truth and when he lies, and how he allows those lies to feed his truth. An improvised scene between he and the daughter, Danielle, is fascinating in that the first take was the one that was used. Yet, this improvised scene holds so much information which informs the rest of the film. Danielle (or Dani, as she is slightly more masculine when with Cady and interestingly more feminine when she is with Bowden), becomes enamored with Cady. She comes to his side for awhile. Cady talks about sex with her. He kisses her. It’s all disgusting.

This is also a film about making mistakes and having to pay for them. Bowden did something technically wrong in his defense of Cady. Despite it not being morally wrong, he is suffering for it. Those around him suffer for it. He is not an action hero here. Any time he engages physically he loses, save for the racquetball game he wins against his female companion, Lori,  (Illeana Douglas), from whom he must constantly deflect sexual advances.


This is a brutal and tough film which has surprising cinematic flourishes for what is a traditionally told thriller. When Cady gets to Lori the result is typical Scorsese violence. When Cady has the aforementioned scene with Danielle, the feeling is absolutely uncomfortable. The family dynamic is not all rosy. They fight. Bowden snaps on his daughter in a scary moment. Bowden’s wife attacks him for past indiscretions, even though the audience knows he is being noble now.

The acting is mostly wonderful. Lewis, who usually comes off as fake, is superb here (even if she reads as way older than 15). This is a defining De Niro role. He disappears into the character in a way he hasn’t often done in his more recent film history. Nolte is serviceable as the protagonist, though the character doesn’t do him many favors in terms of being memorable. Joe Don Baker is very good as a private eye who pretends to be as smart as his prey.

This, instantly, is a favorite Scorsese film for me. While it is absolutely one of his most eccentric films, it also is one which beautifully marries his modern violent aesthetic with an old fashioned style of filming and scoring. If there is one negative, it is that the climax on the boat feels terribly artificial and out-of-date. I wish the last bit would have just happened at the house. But that would be to go against the original. Anyway, De Niro more than makes up for it with his last moments on screen. Really, I can’t wait to watch this again.



The bonus is for having the balls for going with this awesome, classic film score.


FINAL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on August 6, 2014.

7 Responses to “johnlink ranks CAPE FEAR (1991)”

  1. This is a really good movie – that scene where Nolte is flopping around in the blood is classic : )

  2. That last moment when DeNiro is in the water babbling still haunts me.

  3. One of my all time favourite De Niro performances 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: