Review No. 458
A Scorsese film with the word “Fear” in the title means something.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by: Wesley Strick
Based on: “Cape Fear” by James R. Webb; “The Executioners” by John D. MacDonald
Max Cady: Robert De Niro
Sam Bowden: Nick Nolte
Leigh Bowden: Jessica Lange
Danielle Bowden: Juliette Lewis
Claude Kersek: Joe Don Baker
Lt. Elgart: Robert Mitchum
Lee Heller: Gregory Peck
Also Starring: Charles Scorsese, Fred Dalton Thompson, Illeana Douglas, Martin Balsam, Zully Montero
Distributed by Universal Pictures on November 13, 1991. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 127 mins. Rated R by the MPAA–mature themes, graphic violence, profanity, infrequent rape/sexual abuse.
Cape Fear was watched on March 30, 2013.
“Every man… every man has to go through hell to reach paradise.” –Max Cady (Robert De Niro)
Martin Scorsese has himself well-established as a director of crime dramas, usually upbeat and set in urban territory. Cape Fear is somewhat different. This is a crime film, but it’s presented not as a whimsical drama but as an eerie, psychological thriller. Yes, Scorsese has gotten into his characters’ heads several times before, but not like he does here. What’s most perturbing is that the film is easy to relate to: we are told this story through the eyes of the victims, who live in a typical, peaceful suburban area.
Fourteen years before, Max Cady (Robert De Niro) was put on trial for raping an adolescent girl. He was shocked that he was being tried for the crime, as he had assumed that since she was promiscuous, it wasn’t even a crime. What shocked him even more was when he landed in prison. Now Cady has been released, and he still feels as if his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), has betrayed him. Nobody believes the recent ex-con to be a psychopath any longer, and Cady uses that to his advantage: he stalks the house and seduces Sam’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis)–who, like the rest of the town, believes that the insanity is all in the paranoid minds of the Bowden family.
This was the seventh of eight Scorsese-De Niro collaborations; he’s portrayed a sly, likable “bad guy” in most of them. I’ve seen all of these efforts, save for Taxi Driver (1976)* and New York, New York (1977), and I’d have to say that they’re all stellar. Cape Fear is especially stellar as the odd one out. The film is an intensely unsettling thriller, and it’s all due to De Niro’s attitude in the film. It’s ironic that we hate him so much–it’s difficult not to side with the victimized family, even with their flaws–yet his approach so cleverly mimics the evilly seductive appeal of Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter (this came a mere nine months later).
It was in 1962 that Cape Fear was first made. On several occasions, it’s easy to tell. I don’t want to use the word “amusing” to describe anything of a movie like this, but it is amusing watching Nick Nolte lovingly homage Gregory Peck (who gives a brief cameo in Scorsese’s remake as Cady’s new lawyer). Furthermore, Elmer Bernstein resurrects Bernard Herrmann’s musical score. It sounds like a lazy, B-movie approach, but god, does it work.
Where the film falters, at times, is in trying to use this score and still seem like a movie from 1991. There’s several clichés in Wesley Strick’s screenplay. Here’s an example: A woman looks out the window and sees “the stalker” standing nonchalantly by the fence. She screams and tells another person within five feet to look out the window. He or she does, and “the stalker” is gone. I’ll advise you not to use that scene to identify any movie. You could land on John Carpenter’s Halloween or you could land on Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear.
Other than these clichés, however, the film is very well-written. Say we compare Halloween and Cape Fear. I do love Halloween, but you can give me a holler when John Carpenter manages to pull off a twist ending like this one.
*As of 4/6, I have seen Taxi Driver. My review is due to appear on 4/19 at 2:00 PM.