Cape Fear (1991)

cape fear poster 1991 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting : 10/10
Visuals: 7/10

Great cast, De Niro and Lewis

Riverboat scenes

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Cape Fear

Studio:  Amblin Entertainment

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Horror

Release Date(s):  November 13, 1991

MPAA Rating:  R

cape fear 1991 robert de niro max cady movie theater

Max…you’re overplaying your hand…there is no way that anyone would laugh this hard at Problem Child…

Max Cady (Robert De Niro) has been released from prison after years of serving time for the rape and battery of a teenage girl.  Now, Max is out to settle a score with his defense attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who intentionally buried evidence which could have helped him.  Sam finds his life complicated and in danger when Cady surfaces and threats to his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange), daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis), and coworker Lori (Illeana Douglas) prove that Cady is not only dangerous but smart.  Sam can’t touch Cady but that won’t stop Cady from getting to him!

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Cape Fear is a psychological horror thriller.  Originally based upon the John D. MacDonald 1957 novel The Executioners, the film is actually more of a remake of the 1962 Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum film of the same title.  The film was well received by critics and at the box office and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Lewis).

The early 1990s showed a resurgence in “respected” horror-esque films.  Movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Misery showed that men could be monsters and horror could be done in a way that was artful and award worthy.  Cape Fear was more of a thriller, but it was also more horrifying than many of the horror movies at the time.

cape fear jessica lang nick nolte

I thought if anyone could save us, it would be Joe Don Baker…I was wrong!!!

The story for the movie is one of those story (for me personally) that is very frustrating.  The character (despite being a lawyer) seems to be falling deeper and deeper into legal traps.  It is tightly woven in the film and smartly written, but it is the type of story that makes you want to scream at the film.  From having men attack and threaten Cady to the daughter who finds him strangely attractive, Cape Fear just feels like a snare tightening as it slowly moves along…and getting more panicky at the second.  With that in mind, much of the houseboat scene feels like a bit of a copout to force to story to a conclusion, but solid acting keeps it strong.

The cast is great.  De Niro rules every scene as the slimy Cady and his accent and voice have the ability to creep out the viewer.  The family is smartly flawed (I guess they originally wanted them to be a perfect family in the script), and that does help give depth to the Nolte and Lange characters.  Juliette Lewis was the breakout star of the film and her damaged performance does create a character that isn’t shiny and polished like many horror movie teens (the scene between De Niro and Lewis was largely adlibbed and one of the film’s best scenes).  The core cast is backed up by a great supporting cast in Fred Thompson, Joe Don Baker, Illeana Douglas, and the stars of the original Cape Fear Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam.

cape fear lighter fluid robert de niro juliette lewis

So it isn’t love?

The movie has a lot of Scorsese style, but it also doesn’t feel like a traditional Scorsese movie.  There are a lot of snap-zooms and quick movements that feel more like Sam Raimi than Scorsese’s standard work, but Scorsese does use the visuals to up the fear level.  I am also not a huge fan of how the whole riverboat scene was shot and looks.

Cape Fear is a solid thriller and better than most of the similar movies made around this time.  The performance by De Niro is iconic, and the movie is worth seeing just for it.  Unfortunately for Cape Fear, the movie was emulated so often and parodied (like the classic “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons) that at points in the film the movie almost seems like a parody of itself…but De Niro always manages to reel it back in and puts the “Fear” back in the title.

Related Links:

Cape Fear (1962)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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