Film Review: "Cape Fear" (1991)

Posted by prla1983 on February 01, 2005 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

"You learn about loss."

Loss of innocence, loss of humanity, loss of freedom. "Cape Fear", acclaimed director Martin Scorsese's 1991 feature film, is all about loss and it tells a tale of how buried past mistakes can come back to haunt us. Whereas 1962's original film, of which this is a modern remake, dealt with an innocent man who finds himself stalked for no apparent reason, Scorsese's film adds a subtle twist to things and we find ourselves watching the story of the same man but this time he's far from being innocent. Even if the plot doesn't really bring anything new to the genre, it gains in suspense so thick you can cut it and in the depth of its characters.

Despite running for a little over two hours, "Cape Fear" doesn't really waste any time and it starts picking up speed right from the beginning. We quickly learn Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is an attorney of the law, leading a stable life with a wife (Jessica Lange) and kid (Juliette Lewis), who happens to have committed a terrible mistake in the past. While defending a rapist, Max Cady (De Niro), in court, Bowden purposefully ommitted evidence which could work in favour of his client. He did that because he believes this kind of people should be locked away and not let in the open air. While this may be understood if not condoned from a purely moral point of view, his client doesn't think the same way and having spent the last fourteen years of his life in prison doesn't really help the cause. Twisted as Cady is, as soon as he gets out of jail, Bowden and his family are sure to be entering a world of pain.

If the plot I've just described is nothing otherworldly and nothing we haven't seen somewhere else, it's the way it's presented to the viewer that makes it stand out and become one of the best suspense films ever made which wouldn't leave Hitchcock the least bit ashamed. Scorsese's use of red and negative colored images adds an eerie edge to the film and violence is, from pretty much the very first minute, hovering above the proceedings. Throughout the movie, there are amazingly beautiful, albeit surreal, shots of the Bowden family home, with the sky shown in different colors, a metaphore for what's happening and being felt inside.

"Cape Fear", having a few similarities with De Palma's Blow Out, also features a few very interesting and lengthy dialogue passages, something which could easily be left out of a suspense film in favour of thrills and more thrills. Scorsese's knows how to play the game, though, and it's a joy to see the way Cady seduces Danielle, Bowden's daughter, or every single line of dialogue between Cady and Sam Bowden. Despite not being as noir as 1955's The Night of the Hunter, another stalker classic with Robert Mitchum in the leading role as the famous man with "love" and "hate" tatooed in his knuckles, it lends much from it on how it gives a sense of uneasyness to the viewer, the feeling it could happen to you too. The bridge between the two is the original "Cape Fear", which features exactly Robert Mitchum in the role of Max Cady and the late Gregory Peck as Bowden. Interestingly, the remake also features these two ancient masters of Hollywood which gives it another touch of pure class. Unfortunately, as I write this, both actors have already left this world for better things.

All in all, "Cape Fear" plays as a reference in suspense films for times to come. Robert De Niro, in another Oscar worthy performance, shows yet again how versatile he can be and how equally powerful he is in every role, even in the pathetic comedies he has featured in as of late. Here he can be scary, funny, thoughtful, lethal and he embodies the proverbial loss of humanity from the time he spends being sodomized in jail, to use his own words in the movie.

What goes around comes around and no matter how old our mistakes are they can still come back to haunt us in ways we don't even dare to think about. "Cape Fear" takes that premise to the extreme and Scorsese totally pulls it off in his very own magnetic and gripping way.

***1/2 out of 4