Cape Fear is a smart and stylish remake of the 1962 suspenser. Sharply written adaptation follows the basic plot of J. Lee Thompson’s solid black & white 1962 Universal release, which featured Robert Mitchum as a white trash ex-con who returns from prison to torment the prosecuting attorney (Gregory Peck) who sent him up.
Changes, however, enrich and blacken the material, making the characters squirm physically, morally and sexually. Instead of being a ‘normal’ upstanding Southern family, the Bowdens (Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and 15-year-old daughter Juliette Lewis) are troubled by father’s history of infidelity and daughter’s difficulties with both parents.
Enter Robert De Niro’s Max Cady, a psychopath whose body is covered with a mural of threatening, religiously oriented tattoos, including the scales of ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ hanging off either side of a cross. Penned up for 14 years, Cady begins by just annoying the family, but soon launches his campaign of terror by killing the family dog and brutalizing a boozy young law clerk (Illeana Douglas) whom Nolte has been seeing.
In maximum souped-up style, director Martin Scorsese slams through the mandatory plot mechanics with powerful short scenes, dynamic in-your-face dollies and cranes and machine-gun editing. Director and his collaborators really cut to the quick in the disturbing sexual component, mainly between Cady and the teen.
De Niro’s Cady is a memorable nasty right up there with Travis Bickle and Jake La Motta, a sickie utterly determined in his righteous cause. Nolte copes admirably with a difficult role written as somewhat unsympathetic. Lange’s role plays as rather subsidiary to the others. Lewis is excellent as the troubled, tempted teen, and tale begins and ends with brief narration from her p.o.v. Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam, all of whom appeared in the ’62 version, pop up here in astutely judged roles. Bernard Herrmann’s original score is adapted and rearranged by Elmer Bernstein.
1991: Nominations: Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Supp. Actress (Juliette Lewis)