Cape Fear (1991)
cape fear | remake | martin scorsese | wesley strick | robert de niro | nick nolte | jessica lange | revenge | crime | thriller | united states | juliette lewis | joe don baker | robert mitchum | gregory peck | martin balsam | illeana douglas | fred dalton thompson
Film: Cape Fear
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Wesley Strick
Starring: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange
This film was one that I heard quite a bit about before I ever actually saw it. In college I actually saw the original and then decided I would check this one out. Now many might not find this to be a horror film, but it is pretty brutal and the fear of what is happening to this family I would say does qualify. The synopsis is a convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.
We start by seeing our villain, Max Cady (Robert De Niro). He’s in prison and it is the day of his release. We see that he has many bible verses tattooed on his body. The guards ask him he wants his books and he tells them that he has already read them. Something interesting about them is that they are mostly books on law.
It then shifts to a family. The father is a lawyer named Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). He is married to Leigh (Jessica Lange). They have a daughter who is a bit of problem child, Danielle (Juliette Lewis). She has to attend summer school because she was nearly expelled for smoking marijuana.
They go to see a movie and they sit a few rows behind Max. He is smoking a cigar and is laughing loudly, being quite a bit obnoxious. They decide to move elsewhere which brings a smile to Max’s face. They then go to get ice cream and when Sam goes to pay, he is told it has been taken care of. He sees Max staring at them. He knows something is wrong.
We then see Sam playing racket ball with a younger woman he works with Loris Davis (Illeana Douglas). When Sam goes to leave Max takes his keys to have a chat. It’s then that Sam realizes who this man is and Max says something under his breath about learning what loss is. Nolte goes to talk to his boss, Tom Broadbent (Fred Dalton Thompson), to find what he can do through the courts, but the problem is that Max hasn’t done anything yet.
They delve into why Max is after him. Tom does recommend a guy who is a bit nefarious that could help his problem, but at this time, Sam wants to do things by the letter of the law. He remembers Max before he went in and thinks he will screw up eventually. The problem is that he is a lot different from he went in. During their next encounter Max reveals that he taught himself how to read and part of what he did was his case file. He knows it inside and out. Sam decides to bribe him, but it doesn’t work.
Max is relentless in driving a wedge in this family and doing things to hurt Sam. This ranges from attacking the family dog, going after the young woman that Sam is too friendly with and even flirting with Danielle. The problem becomes the more agitated that Sam becomes, the more mistakes he makes and he learns that Max is more than a formidable opponent.
I want to lead off stating that since I have seen the originally film, I really like about this one is that it is a remake, but a completely different film. We get the same basic premise, but director Martin Scorsese definitely ramped up the tension and stakes in this one. Max is such a terrifying character. I love the idea that he went away to prison and focused all of his time to better himself. He didn’t do this to become a function member of society, but he did it for revenge. I do have a slight issue that he could be as calculating or as intelligent as they make him out to be, especially with how the character is portrayed. This is a bit of my biggest issues with the film. I did also have a slight hang-up on some of the physical things that he can do, but this gets explained at the climax.
Since I covered the villain, I should move to the complexity of the family. We have Sam who is flawed in a couple of ways. He violated his oath as a lawyer to do the right thing and make sure Max is put away. On top of that though, he also had an affair so his wife isn’t as trusting of him. This is something that Max uses against him when he attacks Lori. He never actually did anything with her, but he wanted to. Leigh is a character though that comes off bitchy though. It seems like they never resolved their issues and she is harboring that. Their marriage is really struggling. We are seeing that the effects of his madmen is changing their lives and ruining it, since he felt his life was ruined by Sam.
Another character I wanted to cover is Danielle. She is in that awkward age where she is coming into being a woman, but she isn’t there yet. Max flirting with her is empowering, but he is taking advantage of how naïve she is. It is kind of sick in what he is doing. It is important though, brings of the wedge it again drives in here. There is also the corruption of the minor. Sam is told to read the book of Job in the bible, which makes sense if you know the story of this character.
The final aspect of the story to cover is the law. Max while in prison read up on them and knows exactly what he can and cannot get away with. Sam being a lawyer is bound to do the right thing, but doesn’t. I do like that he sinks to doing illegal things to save his family, but it comes back to hurt him. We normally see justice not being served, which is part of this, but we also see how it can be used the other way as well.
To move to the pacing of the film, I think it is actually really good. The film runs two hours, but it doesn’t feel like it. We get introduced to our villain early and he doesn’t mess around getting to bother this family. The other thing is that he starts off doing little things and they continue to get worse and worse. As they do, it builds the necessary tension to a satisfying conclusion in my opinion.
As for the acting of the film, I have to say that it is great. De Niro really embodies this character and it is scary how well he plays it. He is one of the more terrifying on-screen personalities for sure, especially what he does to Lori and at the climax of the film. Nolte is really good as well. He is a character that we see do illegal things for the right reasons and you feel for him. I like that we see the possible affair as well to humanize him and show that everyone is a flawed person. Lange is solid as was Lewis. This is actually a younger role for her and it was pretty impressive. She gives off that awkward sexuality that we experience at that age and it works. I really liked the cameos from the original film of Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, which is a good call back. Also want to shout-out Joe Don Becker and Douglas as well. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
To the effects of the film, for the most part they they’re good. There is one scene in particular that still makes me cringe where Max attacks Lori. It is heartbreaking and looks so real. All of the blood in the film is solid as well as the attacks we get. They look quite realistic. There’s something that happens for Max to follow the family to the climax I didn’t care for and there is a scene with fire that was clearly not good CGI. The film is still shot beautiful and the effects are good overall.
The soundtrack of the film will be the last thing to cover. I didn’t realize that Bernard Herrman did the original score of the film. It was updated for this version, but to be honest, it really didn’t stand out. It doesn’t hurt the film for me as it does fit the scenes for what was needed. I do remember the opening theme that sounded similar to Psycho. I did like that track.
Now with that said, this might not be a horror film to everyone, but I think it has enough of the elements to be one. The story and concept is quite scary, because we are seeing someone do the wrong thing for the right reason and that sin needs to be paid for. There are so many layers to the story. I think that the pacing is really good in building this tension to a good conclusion. The acting also helps bring it to life and is great across the board. The effects are good for the most part; there are just some slight issues there. Soundtrack doesn’t stand out, but it fits for what is needed. I would definitely recommend this to horror and non-horror fans alike to at least see this once. I have to say this is a great movie.
My Rating: 9.5 out of 10