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  Cape Fear Punishment Fitting The Crime?
Year: 1991
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Illeana Douglas, Fred Dalton Thompson, Zully Montero
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Max Cady (Robert De Niro) has been released from prison on a sexual battery conviction that has taken nearly fifteen years of his life away, and it's safe to say he's not best pleased. He doesn't blame himself for being incarcerated, he blames his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who could have mentioned in the defence that the woman he raped had a history of promiscuity, and the fact that Bowden got the charge down to a lesser one of battery holds no forgiveness for Cady. He has spent his time inside building up his body and reading - and now he's ready.

This Cape Fear was the source of some very divisive reactions, as it was a surprise from a director like Martin Scorsese that he would make an all out horror flick, and many of his highbrow fans were left feeling let down. Not that this would have bothered him too much as it went on to be the biggest hit of his career to that date, and freed him to helm more personal projects now he had proved himself capable of commercial success and not simply a much respected, or even cult, director. But although the public flocked to see De Niro play the bad guy to the hilt, there were still grumblings, and not because of Scorsese's perceived selling out.

Those less convinced that this was an improvement on J. Lee Thompson's original thriller did have a point, no matter that the director tried to placate those with good memories of it by casting its stars Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck in small roles (Martin Balsam was in there as well). If you knew the first version, then you'd be aware that the lawyer's family victimised by Cady's stalker techniques which escalate into something far more serious were pretty much blameless, to amp up the tension of bad things happening to decent people, yet on Scorsese's insistence in the remake they were subjected to all sorts of reasons to make out that they deserved their treatment by the bad guy.

All of this was apparently to bring the director's religious preoccupations to bear on the plot, so the no one is innocent theme was intended to add to the suspense, yet if you looked at what the Bowdens were supposed to have done - Sam, for example, thinks about but crucially does not have an affair with co-worker Illeana Douglas - they were completely out of proportion to the fate they suffered at the hands of their tormentor, revealing an unpleasantly puritanical streak to Scorsese's worldview if he really did believe all that stuff about Catholic guilt. Not helping was that the whole style of the piece was so exaggerated that everyone was on the verge of hysteria from minute one: it's little wonder this made such a memorable spoof on The Simpsons when the source was so cartoonish and preposterous.

Mystifyingly, the acting was praised to the extent of Oscar nominations for the two worst thespian offenders here. The scene where Cady attempts to seduce Sam's teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis) is interminable, indulging the performers' worst quirks at deadening length, yet was singled out as one of the highlights of the movie. It's probably best to regard this Cape Fear as a product of the nineties horror genre - De Niro even treated us to his Freddy Krueger in the last act - so that its farcical qualities were less likely to stick in the craw, but doing that demanded a huge suspension of disbelief. That one character's assault would not be pursued legally due to her lack of faith in the justice system is borderline insulting, and the rain soaked finale on the river dragged on tediously, piling on the moralising as if Cady was the representative of avenging angels everywhere, only illustrating that this film's sense of right and wrong was seriously off-kilter. In horror movies, that really is unforgivable. Bernard Herrmann's original score was reworked by Elmer Bernstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Martin Scorsese  (1941 - )

American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.

However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.

Unfortunately, his tribute to the musical New York, New York was a flop, and he retreated into releasing concert movie The Last Waltz before bouncing back with boxing biopic Raging Bull, which many consider his greatest achievement. The rest of the eighties were not as stellar for him, but The King of Comedy and After Hours were cult hits, The Color of Money a well-received sequel to The Hustler and The Last Temptation of Christ kept his name in the headlines.

In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.

Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal Affairs The Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.

This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. Despite being an advocate of the theatrical experience, he joined forces with Netflix for The Irishman, reuniting him with De Niro for one last gangster epic. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.

 
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