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USA 1991
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
128 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Cape Fear (1991)

From its gorgeous opening titles by Elaine and Saul Bass, Martin Scorsese's remake of J. Lee Thompson’s 1961 thriller.drama Cape Fear is the director in full film-making flight. The original film was a very good effort for its time but suffered from a lack of frankness and a weakly executed ending. Scorsese's version corrects these problems with his characteristic sweep of cinematic vision given full rein by a much bigger budget (it was made for a reported US$34 million) and the much more liberal moral landscape of the 1990s which enables the director to bring Max Cady’s viciousness to full light. Thompson’s film will have its partisans but even they are unlikely to deny the force of Scorsese’s remake.

Robert De Niro gives one of the most under-rated, and physically-intimidating performances of his career as Max Cady, the brutal ex-con who comes to exact his revenge on small-town lawyer and family man, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who as his defence lawyer, suppressed some evidence and as a result, got Cady14 years in the jug.  Although plot-wise substantially the same (a re-recorded version of Bernard Herrmann's original score is also used), Wesley Strick’s screenplay fixes the weaknesses of earlier version, giving greater presence to Bowden’s wife, Leigh (Jessica Lange) and his 15-year-old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis) and giving Cady a more credible motive for revenge in Sam’s professional failing of Cody whilst Scorsese vastly improves
(although the runaway houseboat looks suprisingly like the model that it is) on Thompson’s botched final confrontation,

Cape Fear is not one of Scorsese’s most highly-rated films.
The brutality probably didn't help but I suspect that this was more because it is a film geek’s ultimate self indulgence (Scorsese casts Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam from the earlier version) and would have been seen by many as and case of style over substance. But that evaluation is relative to the director’s outstanding body of work. For virtually any other director it would have been hailed as a tour-de-force




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