For a horror movie to really be successful, it’s important that it preys on very basic and human fears. What both the original 1962 version of Cape Fear and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake exploits the fear of the intrusion of our personal spaces and the disruption of our lives. In this review, I’ll be talking about Martin Scorsese’s version, because this is the one I’ve actually seen. Traditionally, I can’t review a movie if I haven’t seen it, you know? So here we go.
Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is a lawyer who appears to have a great life. His family has a nice standing in the town of New Essex, and the only real problem is their teenage daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis) going to summer school. The carpet is quickly pulled out from under them when a convict of 14 years Max Cady (Robert De Niro) gets released. Cady and Bowden of a past that doesn’t add up just right and cost Cady 14 years of his life. Now that he’s freed, he vows to have his biblical revenge on Bowden and teach him all about loss.
The terrifying thing about this movie is that it isn’t something that just happens in the movies. People’s lives get invaded, uprooted, and otherwise ruined more often than one might think and the way Scorsese plays it in Cape Fear isn’t hard to believe. The incidences with Cady start out small and act as more of an annoyance for Bowden, but as the plot slowly moves along, Cady begins moving deeper and deeper into the minds of the Bowden family until he finally reaches their breaking point.
Robert De Niro absolutely kills it in this movie and is definitely one of his best performances along with his role in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, both Scorsese films strangely enough. It’s easy to become immediately repulsed by his character right when you first see him in the first scene of the movie. There’s automatically something that you just hate about him that progresses throughout the movie. The other scene stealer is Juliette Lewis as the young teenager whose mind is a blank page for Cady to scribble his psychopathic mumbo jumbo. She’s innocent and relatable for everyone whose ever been a teenager. You want to jump into the scene and save her from his madness, but you have to keep telling yourself that it’s just a movie.
One thing that kind of grinded my gears was the overuse of blue screen. There’s scenes with these really over dramatic clouds and stormy weather if something foreboding or sinister is happening in the Bowden household. Having that happen once is passable on the grounds of dramatic emphasis, but more than once just takes away the realism that this movie tries so hard to establish.
I will say that I love the helplessness that you’re bound to feel while watching this movie as a result of the helplessness of the main characters. Nolte’s character really tries to get help from the legal system, but Cady is able to find loop holes in every instance. I’m not saying that Scorsese was trying to condemn the entire legal system, but he does succeed at pointing out the problems and inconsistencies that make it very easy for intelligent and scheming people to exploit to push the law to their favor.
This was a genuinely scary and suspenseful film because of its true to life nature and the brilliant performances by Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis. The exploration of the legal system also adds depth without really straying away from the main story. This certainly is Scorsese’s best work, and I’m not sure of anyone who would rate it higher than Goodfellas or Raging Bull, but it’s still a great piece of film making, albeit a little over the top at points, that does its job to its fullest and then some.