Cape Fear - 1991
I'm really struggling to write this review. I had heard about Cape Fear (1991) many times, thanks to its impact on pop culture with the peak being The Simpsons parody episode, but had never sat down to actually watch it. When you look it up, on paper it sounds like a classic, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as a violent criminal (if Taxi Driver and Goodfellas showed anything is that this combination was a sure fire hit) I knew I had to watch it. Since it has been on my list for such a long time and it's often brought up as one of the greatest movies of the 1990's, I schedule it on my "Modern Classic" day reviews and I honestly looked forward to it... and then I watched it.
So let me backtrack a bit and start with all the good, and there is a lot of good things in this movie. First off the acting, lead by Robert De Niro (playing Max Cady), giving a grandiose performance, being able to portray a real menacing presence while delivering great monologues. From the first couple of scenes, along with the amazing score, we understand that Cady is a force to be feared. De Niro is balanced out by Nick Nolte (playing Sam Bowden), as he plays a low key, straight arrow performance, allowing De Niro to shine.
The stylish directing of Scorsese used for this movie, having quick cuts and slick transitions, helped move the plot along, while giving it a unique look and feel. One of my favorite directorial decision made by Scorsese, was when Cady is leaving prison at the beginning of the film. As the sky turn dark, the musical score turns full volume, we get a steady cam shot of Cady walking straight for the camera and Scorsese doesn't cut away until his face hits the lens, letting the audience know that for the rest of this film Cady will be right up in our faces making us feel uncomfortable and on edge.
Now the first half of this movie is great, great thriller with raw violent scenes (the rape scene with Cady and Lori that was controversial at the time), that help fuel the tension when Cady tries to connect with Bowden's daughter Danielle (played by Juliette Lewis), keeping us on the edge of our sits waiting for something horrible to occur. The fight scenes between Bowden and his wife (played by Jessica Lange) are greatly acted scenes, each feeding off the others energy and giving more insight to the past lives of this family and how it dictates their actions during this crisis.
So with all that said, I can't say this movie, for my tastes, is a modern classic, it can defensively be describes as a modern classic performance by De Niro, but the second half of this movie falls on its face. The entire first half of this movie is 100% believable, an ex con seeking revenge on the lawyer that wronged him. He uses the laws (that he studied during his 14 years) in his favor, to create a false narrative and slowly destroy the lawyers life, piece by piece. This entire time you are in tension as to what will happen next, never knowing when his violent side will snap and what else he will do to this family to fulfill his vendetta. But when the last act of this movie rolled around, all that effort and planning to "by the law" to destroy the man that didn't use the law to keep him out of prison, goes out the window as he becomes a Jason-esq (Friday the 13th) character that can't be stopped as he kills and destroys everything in front of him.
Before I continue, in the last part of the movie, there is still an incredible scene, of both acting and directing that I truly enjoy:
But aside from that scene, everything in the last act feels force, unbelievable and out of place. The movie just couldn't find its landing, with Cady repeating himself and forcing his "final step" of his revenge plan on the family and on me, that at this point I just wanted it to end.
SPOILERS: The final scene of De Niro, is his character screaming in tongues, screaming nonsense at Nolte and that the best hyperbole for the last act of this movie. Nonsense.
With all that said De Niro, Nolte, Lange and Lewis manage to stay above the nonsense and still be able to deliver a great cast performance that I truly enjoyed, lead by the stylish vision of Scorsese. But I know that there are a lot of fans out there that will defend this with all their passion, and that's why I love movies, because it invokes different feelings in all of us.
I recomend seeing it just for the performances, but don't come in expecting a Scorsese/De Niro classic.