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When Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is released from prison after serving 14 years for rape and battery, he has only one thing on his mind - revenge! During his time in prison, when not being
sodomized by the other inmates, the once ignorant Max Cady spent his time reading and learning all aspects of the law. He also learned that his defence lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) had ignored evidence that the victim in the case was promiscuous, and as such didn’t defend him to the best of his ability. Not only is this illegal, but Cady is sure that it cost him time in prison. Cady begins to taunt Bowden but manages at all times to keep within the law, goading Bowden to make the first illegal move.
When things do go beyond the law, we see the true horror of Max Cady and when he starts to charm Bowden’s naive 15 year old Daughter Danielle (superbly played by Juliette Lewis) we see just how despicable this man really is. I won’t give the story away but the climax of the film will have you on the edge of your seat. Cape Fear is a rollercoaster from start to finish. We see how fast things can grow out of control and how flawed the law is when pitted against someone as intelligent as Cady.
The main difference between the remake and the 1962 original is the character of Bowden (played by Gregory Pack in the original). Peck’s character was a wholesome family man who was beyond reproach. Nolte on the other hand was not only guilty of withholding evidence but is also an adulterous husband who is seemingly on the brink of yet another affair. This makes the film so much more interesting. The villain has most certainly been wronged and the hero is by no means perfect.
The screenplay is intelligent and the directing pure genius (although I’m sure many die hard Scorsese fans would think it a little too slick). The acting is superb throughout and it was a nice touch to include two actors from the original (Gregory Peck now plays a lawyer and Robert Mitchum who played Cady in the original comes back as a lieutenant). Jessica Lange is believable as the wronged Mrs Bowden and Illeana Douglas is exceptional as Bowden’s love interest Lori Davis. I loved Juliette Lewis as Danielle, she deserved her Oscar nomination for the role as did Robert De Niro for his, but be warned ladies! Never has such a vile human being been portrayed as well as Max Cady is by De Niro, and you’ll hate yourself for being charmed by him! There was no doubt in my mind that Max Cady was a depraved, despicable, evil man, so why did I find him so attractive?!
I thoroughly enjoyed this film and feel that the family dynamics being out of kilter made it all the more believable. This is real edge of the seat stuff. Very rarely do you get the chance to see such cinematography. When everything from the music score, lighting, screenplay, acting, story and directing is spot on you know you’ve found a winner. And this film has it all in spades.
CAPE FEAR (1991). Director: Martin Scorsese. Writers: John D. MacDonald (novel ‘the executioner’), James R. Webb (earlier screenplay), Wesley Strick (screenplay). Cast: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Illeana Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck.
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