Cape Fear * * * *


Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Wesley Strick.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Illeana Douglas, Fred Dalton Thompson.

Martin Scorsese is a director that has a massive reputation on the sub-genre of gangster movies but he’s never really been known to tackle a specific genre itself. Due to a contractual obligation with Universal studios and the encouragement of friends Robert DeNiro and Steven Spielberg (who was originally supposed to be the director), he decided to go ahead with this 1991 horror/thriller, making it his first genre and Hollywood movie and also his first remake.

After 14 years in prison, psychopath Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) is released where he begins to seek revenge on his former lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). He believes that Bowden deliberately held back a report during his trial that would have saved him doing time and vows to make Bowden’s life a living hell by terrorising him and his family.

The original “Cape Fear” was released in 1962 and Scorsese makes great references to it. He employs the original actors Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam in cameo roles and has Elmer Bernstein adapt the Hitchcokian original score by Bernard Herrmann. Despite the courteous regard to the original though, Scorsese makes this film his own and updates the material for a contemporary audience by using a more layered approach. He delivers more of a backstory and questions the ethical and moral history of not just DeNiro’s character but also Nolte’s. As we are introduced to them, Nolte’s Sam Bowden dresses in pastel coloured suits and exudes an air of righteousness and innocence while DeNiro’s Max Cady is a cigar chomping, tattooed brute. All is not exactly black and white between them though and there’s also tension and discord between Sam and his long suffering wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and their awkward teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis). Meanwhile, a manipulative and calculating Cady gets his revenge by using the conflicts within the family. By delving more into his characters, Scorsese skilfully cranks up the tension and with superb production design by Henry Bumstead and marvellous cinematography by Freddie Francis he manages to create a real sense of claustrophobia within the family household. While everyone are doing their job behind the scenes though, the ones in front are delivering some of their career best performances. The entire cast deliver the goods here; Nolte and Lange’s on-edge, afflicted couple couldn’t be better and a young – Oscar nominated – Juliette Lewis is a revelation as the awkward, self-conscious impressionable teenager. However, despite these excellent deliveries, this is DeNiro’s film. He is absolutely outstanding and delivers a character that is amongst the finest of his career and another highly impressive transformation; his physique is in exceptional peak condition (apparently he brought his body fat down to 3%) and he has a creepy southern accent that just rings in your ears. The foreboding and malevolent presence that DeNiro shows is deeply unsettling and he, like Lewis, also received an Oscar nomination. Personally, I hold the opinion that he should have taken the award that year. He’s such a threatening character and one of cinema’s most frightening.
The only major problem I had with the film was the denouement. It veers heavily into formulaic territory and despite it sharing the themes of a horror movie, the ending is just a bit too far. For the most part though, Scorsese’s audacity pays off and it’s an highly admirable addition to his impressive canon.

It may lack the subtlety of the original and if it wasn’t for the extreme horror denouement, this film would be worthy of a rating higher than the 4 stars I’ve given it. That being said, it’s still one of the most powerful and memorable performances that DeNiro has ever produced.

Mark Walker



39 Responses to “Cape Fear * * * *”

  1. Gotta agree to disagree on this one buddy.

    This is my least favorite Scorsese film. De Niro chews scenery in a way that he never does in other roles. I realize that a lot of that is inherent in the role, but good giref.

    I admire the fact that he whipped himself into such killer shape, but… I gotta bail on “Cape Fear”. Not a big fan.


    • Sorry to hear that Fogs. πŸ˜‰ It was the ending that undone it for me but personally I loved DeNiro in this. You’re right though, he does chew the scenery but what fun it is to see him do it. It’s actually one of my favourite DeNiro performances. His improv scene with Lewis as he’s seducing her is some creepy shit man.


      • THAT I’ll give you. That scene is chilling creepy. I credit her and the subject matter more than anything De Niro did though.

        And the ending WAS reeeeeally bad, atop of my other complaints. So yeah, not my favorite Scorsese film. 😦


      • Oooft! A tad harsh on Bobby there man. 😦 That being said, I can see your point. Lewis was superb though wasn’t she. In fact, I enjoyed everyone. Joe Don Baker was another highlight.

        It’s certainly not my favourite from Scorsese either and would struggle to make his top five but I still really liked it.


  2. keith7198 Says:

    I quite like this movie. I completely bought into it and for me it stands side by side with the original. Nice review Mark.


  3. Fine review, Mark. There’s a lot things to admire about Scorsese’s remake of the classic ‘Cape Fear’ (love those cameos, btw). The atmosphere, the theme update, and cast choices, for sure. Yet, as with Fogs, some of the excesses (De Niro especially) make it one of the filmmaker’s that I don’t want to revisit. Mitchum as Cady didn’t have to chew scenery half as much to really get under your skin to be one of the great villains of this film era. He was masterful where De Niro just exudes technique and unrestraint. IMO, the update has some strengths, but loses some of the appeal of the original. Enjoyed reading this (and Fogs reaction ;-)). Thanks.


    • Cheers Michael. Another vote against DeNiro? Man, I thought he was magnificent. It’s not often DeNiro goes to this length. He very rarely has to and I do also love Mitchum’s performance. I just found it great to see DeNiro go all out. The ending was ridiculous though.


      • Yeah, I was surprise by that, too. Perhaps, it was my reaction to De Niro’s accent, the distraction of it. A little like what Meryl Streep sometimes gets into – ‘look at me doing a really good [insert region/cultural] accent.’-thing. Of course, it could just be me ;-).


      • I know what you mean Michael. Accents normally don’t work for me either but I thought it was a great touch. It really added to the character. His voice was as creepy as his appearance.


  4. Huge fan of Cape Fear, De Niro’s performance is creepy as hell!


  5. Excellent work here my main man.


  6. For me, one of De Niro’s best ever performances. Never tire of seeing this movie, and love all the trivia such as De Niro calling Scorsese in the middle of the night using this accent (which he never dropped thoughout the whole filming schedule) just to creep him out. Dedication to the art, and such a brilliant performance.

    Nice write up as always Mark πŸ™‚


    • It’s definitely one of my favourites of his also man. He’s so intense and that accent was perfect. I can still hear it ringing through my head as I type this. “Councillor! Councillor!” Brilliant stuff. By the way, you’ve just had your little piece of trivia. 😦
      That’s the one I had for you but I’ll be posting it anyway, incase others are not aware.


      • Damn! Delete it from my comment if you like. Did you know I was also a mind reader? πŸ™‚ Hate ruining my own surprise, but thats something I read years and years ago and will never forget!


      • Haha. The comment stays! I’ll still post it as there’s a slight difference to the info I’ve got. πŸ™‚


  7. Great review Mark. This is one I’ve never got around to watching but has been on my list for a while. It’s gonna have to move higher up I think.


  8. Ohhhhh, I need to watch this again. Most of my Cape Fear memories actually revolve around an episode of The Simpsons…


  9. Watching this tomorrow, I’ll let you know what I think πŸ™‚ yet another one of those films i’m amazed to have gone so long without seeing


  10. I actually saw this on the big screen Mark, can you believe it? I guess back then I had more guts to see violent movies, ahah. It’s really a nail-biting thriller and De Niro was superbly scary, man that scene of him and Juliette Lewis was sooo creepy!

    When I saw this I didn’t know yet who my beloved Gregory Peck was, but shame on me for still not having seen the original! I actually own the movie, just haven’t got around to seeing it during my Peck Movie Marathon, ahah. Will do soon though.


    • I’m really surprised that you’ve seen this Ruth. You must have had more of a stomach for this type of stuff then. It’s quite disturbing on many levels and DeNiro is one scary guy.

      You should give the original a chance, it’s more subtle but I couldn’t separate them. They’re equally as good as each other.


  11. I’m interested in watching this one after reading this.


  12. I saw this movie a zillion years ago, so I don’t remember it well, but I am a fan of Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange. Maybe I’ll give it another go. Maybe I’ll watch the original first — I’ve never seen it.


    • The original is fantastic film. Definitely worth checking out. I should revisit it myself. As a massive fan of DeNiro though, I can’t see by him here. I thought he was marvellous.


  13. Great review. I watched both films (original and remake) back to back a couple years ago and I prefered the original. I can’t remember why but I didn’t really like Scorsese’s take.


  14. Alex Withrow Says:

    Nice review here, one I couldn’t agree more with. I really dig this movie, but that overblown final boat fiasco is just way too much. Why push it that far?


  15. As a big fan of the original, especially Mitchum, I gotta admit this was a decent remake. De Niro hammed it up but it worked. Him laughing in the theater with the cigar was classic. I really liked the idea of Scorsese using Bernard Herrmann’s ominous original score. Juliette Lewis was fantastic here but sadly I haven’t liked her in anything (hello The Other Sister… I’m looking at you) else until I saw her in this viral video which came out late last year. LOL.


    • The original is great stuff Dave and Mitchum was superb. Apparently he never actually compared his performance to DeNiro as he never watched either of the films.

      Nice little video there and I agree on Lewis. I’m not that keen on her but in Cape Fear she was absolutely superb. Thoroughly deserved her Oscar nomination.


  16. Dropping into this thread five or six years later makes me wonder what the current thinking is about this film, if anyone thinks of it anymore at all.

    I cannot understand why true artists (Scorsese in this case) would spend a year or so of their creative career doing a remake – of anything. And, in this case, adding insult to injury, by putting DiNiro through his paces in an ending that reminded me of Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man. I haven’t read, or don’t remember, what Scorsese had to say on the subject, but whatever it was, I’m inclined to throw a little shade on it.

    Now I’ll go check why Gus Van Sant says he made that shot-for-shot of Psycho.

    Cheers and I enjoy your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, man. Thanks for dropping by. Yeah, I don’t know about Scorsese’s intentions on doing a remake but I did actually enjoy his work up until that review ridiculous ending. That just about undone the rest of the film’s good work. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this now. Another revisit methinks.


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