Review: Cape Fear

Image Source: Ransom Magazine (University of Texas)

Fourteen years ago, wealthy lawyer Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte, knowingly withholds evidence that could have acquitted his client Max Cady, played by Robert De Niro, of his rape charges. Now Cady is out, and he knows about Bowden’s wrongdoing. So he sets out to stalk, torment, and ultimately destroy Bowden and his family. Cape Fear is directed by the Martin Scorsese and is a remake of a 1962 film of the same name.

I was hesitant to watch Cape Fear at first because of my high expectations. It’s been recommended to me for a long time, and how could I not be attracted to it when it features the dream team of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, just one year separated from their masterpiece Goodfellas. But the reviews are very polarizing and mixed, and I really didn’t want to be disappointed. But its recent addition to Netflix gave me no excuse not to watch it. So I did, and I was blown away. Not because it was the greatest film of all time, but because of how shocking it was.

Cape Fear is a shocking, horrifying thriller that assaults you with all of De Niro’s fright and all of the tension it can drum up. My outlook on it continued to evolve as the film moved and the suspense grew. At first, I couldn’t help but compare De Niro’s Max Cady to Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter, both of them being tattooed psychopaths just out of jail wreaking havoc on a families. Robert Mitchum also played Max Cady in the original film and is even included in this film as the Lieutenant. I was a bit concerned about this, as I thought a strong desire to be faithful to the original could lead to a boring and unoriginal conclusion. But as time moved on, I realized Max Cady is indeed similar to Harry Powell, only times a billion. De Niro’s off putting (and surprisingly good) southern accent and appalling acts of violence contribute to this being one of his most unique and memorable roles. His excessive scariness compliments the similarly shocking visuals showcased in this film.

Scorsese really shows his influences in this film and utilizes them extremely well. Certain shots and techniques are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock films, but there are even more interesting things I noticed. The skies in this film are so colorful and expressive that they reminded me of Gone With the Wind, and the use of jarring visual filters made me wonder if I was watching Cape Fear or the stargate sequence in 2001. But seriously, the range of techniques that Scorsese employs in this film is impressive.

Cape Fear has quickly become a favorite film of mine; it’s fun, easy to quote, and an enthralling roller-coaster ride that you can talk about for hours…or at least I can.