Cape Fear (1991)
By: Julian on October 10, 2009  | 
Universal (Australia), Region 2 & 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, French DD 2.0, German DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish and Turkish Subtitles. 128 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte, Juliette Lewis, Jessica Lange, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam
Screenplay: Wesley Strick
Country: USA
External Links
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Martin Scorsese's remake of the 1962 J Lee Thompson picture with Robert Mitchum in DeNiro's role as psychopathic ex-con Max Cady is his best non-Mob picture after Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Cape Fear is a strikingly intelligent horror film and typically brilliant direction by Scorsese and powerhouse performances by all of the leads makes it absolutely essential.

Nick Nolte reprises Gregory Peck's role as Sam Bowden, a public defender who represented Max Cady in a rape case that sent Cady to prison for fourteen years. Thing is, Sam withheld documents from an illiterate Cady and the court, documents that may have provided Cady with a defence as they allege the victim had a history of promiscuity. While serving his time, Cady learned to read and represented himself in a number of appeals – he soon learns that Sam essentially threw the case.

Upon his release from prison, Cady approaches Sam and accuses him of betrayal, asserting that a grave miscarriage of justice was committed. Sam offers to pay Cady off in a bid to stop the ex-con from tormenting him, but Cady refuses. Instead, Cady intensifies his psychological attacks on the Bowden family. As the relationship between Sam and his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) destabilises, Cady turns up at their teenage daughter Danielle's (Juliette Lewis) school, before brutally assaulting and raping a legal clerk at Sam's office that the lawyer is having an affair with. Desperate, Sam hires a private investigator (Joe Don Baker) and, as Cady's attacks show no sign of relenting, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

Originally based on John D MacDonald's 1957 pulp novel The Executioners, Cape Fear twists the revenge notion on its head – the antagonist is the character getting the revenge, with protagonist attempting to escape it. Although thematically we want the climax to be an exaction of the revenge, but certainly not for Cady to succeed, it never undermines the revenge element of Cape Fear – it's a smart and powerful film that benefits from Scorsese's inimitable command of the screen.

Scorsese's first foray into horror, then, is an incredibly successful one. A few Hitchcockian flourishes are there – he brings back the very Psycho-esque score by Bernard Herrmann (in the form of a rearrangement by Elmer Bernstein) and also re-enlists Saul Bass to design the opening credit sequence – Bass worked with Scorsese in 1990 on GoodFellas, and with Hitchcock on Vertigo and Psycho, among other films. Three of the main players in the original are brought back for bit roles, with Robert Mitchum playing Bowden's defence lawyer in a role reversal after Cady files a restraining order against Sam. The event is presided over by a judge played by Martin Balsam, (Joe Don Baker's investigator in the original), and Peck returns as a sympathetic police lieutenant. All three inclusions are a nice, respectful acknowledgement by Scorsese, and it was also Gregory Peck's final cinema role.

There are a few notable differences between this film and the 1962 original adaptation. The differences lie primarily with Sam's character and the Bowden family dynamic – Sam was a completely innocent party in the original, having testified against Cady as opposed to (mis)representing him, and the Bowden family is seen as being completely conventional and blissful – Danielle (Nancy in the original) doesn't smoke pot and is as pure as the driven snow and Sam's marriage isn't stricken with infidelities or neglect. These changes make Wesley Strick's screenplay much more complex than the script James R Webb wrote for the original – by wobbling the moral compass and presenting Sam as a fundamentally flawed protagonist, we're required to make more of an effort to gain sympathy for the character. It's a technique that works well in the context of the film and contemporises the situation.

Visually, Cape Fear is quite striking – the North Carolina locale is inappropriately bright and vibrant; even Cady's wardrobe works to undermine the utterly malevolent current running through the film. The contrast works well with some brilliant cinematography by veteran Londoner Freddie Francis, who lensed Lynch's Elephant Man and Dune and earned cult acclaim via his directorial efforts with Amicus and Hammer in the sixties and seventies. The acting is brilliant and DeNiro's performance is absolutely galvanising. Rarely does DeNiro's tattooed, cigar-touting, brash Southerner Cady verge into the land of caricature and he earned an Oscar nomination for his role. Juliette Lewis was also given an Oscar nomination and Cape Fear was the first film in a staccato burst of hits, ending in 1996 with From Dusk Til Dawn, the last good film the promising young actress made. Nolte and Lange work well as the beleaguered husband and wife team, battling Cady and a multitude of personal problems within their marriage and Baker, Mitchum, Peck and Balsam's brief supporting roles are also worthy of a nod. Highly recommended.
The picture is presented in its OAR, 2.35:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It's sharp and clear, as good as you'd expect.
One English Dolby 5.1 track, and 2.0 tracks in French, German, Italian and Spanish. No complaints here.
Extra Features
The 2-disc collector's edition is excellent. The second disc has all the extras, with an 80-minute making-of, an 11-minute tribute to Saul and Elaine Bass, a 9-minute photograph montage divided into three segments (DeNiro, the cast and Scorsese), 8-minutes of deleted scenes, two 2-minute featurettes on the sets of the Fourth of July parade and the houseboat, a minute of matte paintings, production notes, notes on the director and cast, a theatrical trailer and DVD-ROM features including a script-to-screen comparison. A commentary would've made an exceptional set perfect. Unless you want a DTS track, there's no need to go R1.
The Verdict
The sort of movie you can show those non-horror loving pariahs but still have them sufficiently disturbed, Cape Fear is on the better end of Scorsese's present oeuvre and is a rip-roaring revenge flick. Unmissable.
Movie Score
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