Cape Fear (1991) starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Illeana Douglas directed by Martin Scorsese Movie Review

Cape Fear (1991)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991)

Scorsese Screws Up

Yes you did read that title right, I said Scorsese screws up and I am on about his remake of "Cape Fear". Now there is no denying that Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest movie makers of his age, he has consistently delivered stunning movies which keep you gripped thanks to the combination of stories, characters, actors and high production values but with "Cape Fear" he screwed up. He screwed up because it is the forced stylistic elements which end up out of place, distracting you from mostly terrific performances and a terrific thriller. It's scenes such as a sex scene which suddenly turns from colour to negative for no reason which seem like follies of a director experimenting with techniques and not always to the better.

15 years earlier young lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte - Another 48 Hrs.) hid evidence which would have got rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro - Backdraft), the man he was defending acquitted but now Cady is out and having learned how to read knows exactly what Sam did and is after revenge. But the time inside has made Cady two things smart and dangerous, a deadly combination and he patiently sets about terrorizing Sam and enjoying every moment of it especially when he gets involved with those closest to Sam, especially his daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis - Christmas Vacation).

Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear (1991)

So as mentioned "Cape Fear" is a remake and unlike many remakes is a very good movie, an atmospheric thriller which draws you into this drama of the evil Max Cady terrorizing Sam and his family. But it is the strength of the story which is why it is so good and the writing of the characters especially Max Cady which makes it so terrific and that leads me to Robert De Niro's exceptional performances. Like Scorsese De Niro has been in some of the greatest movies of the last half century but his performance here as Cady is something seriously special because he makes him smart and terrifying. The combination of the writing and De Niro makes him a character which is evil but fascinating especially at the way he doesn't just attack Sam but cleverly attacks those nearest to him including a terrifying scene where he attacks Sam's girlfriend Lori played by Illeana Douglas.

De Niro's performance is not the only good performance in "Cape Fear" as Nick Nolte as Sam and Jessica Lange as his wife Leigh deliver equally good performances especially Lange who is spot on as the frustrated and frightened wife. There are also good supporting performances from the likes of Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Joe Don Baker as well as the aforementioned Illeana Douglas all of which bring colour to their characters to make it feel more than just a one man movie. And the surprise performance comes from a young Juliette Lewis who is sensational as Danielle especially during her one on one scenes with Robert De Niro such as the chilling one in the school theatre.

But as I said right at the start Scorsese screws things up with "Cape Fear" because whilst he brings some great noir style touches with use of close ups and camera angles some of the touches end up forced. The sudden zoom ins often feel out of place and then scenes such as the sudden switch to negative during a sex scene and the following scene of Max Cady sitting on the wall surrounded by fireworks feel wrong as if Scorsese was experimenting with different ideas and techniques. It's a shame as these moments of strange, forced styling drag "Cape Fear" back from being a great movie to just a very good one.

What this all boils down to is that Scorsese's remake of "Cape Fear" is a very good movie thanks to the story and the acting especially from Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis but Scorsese's styling unfortunately spoils it and prevents it from being a truly great movie.