Cape Fear (1991) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The original Cape Fear (1962) is a terrific movie, but director Martin Scorsese sent a remake to theaters in 1991. So, which one is better? Before we get into that, let’s go over the plot. A deeply disturbed rapist who was recently released from prison, Max Cady (Robert De Niro), stalks the lawyer who unsuccessfully defended him in court, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), and his family. Okay, I won’t leave you in suspense, the 1962 one is superior, but the 1991 version is still worth watching.

The newer release of Cape Fear is, interestingly enough, much pulpier and more unsubtle than the original. The direction is histrionic and in-your-face, making you wonder if Martin Scorsese was trying to be funny. It’s almost comically over-the-top at times. I’m not sure if “operatic” is a word I’d normally use to describe a crime-thriller about a rapist stalking a lawyer and his family. To add to the movie’s heightened energy, the loud-and-proud musical themes from the 1962 original, composed by Bernard Herrmann, are employed here, as adopted by Elmer Bernstein.

The 1991 Cape Fear adds traces of moral ambiguity that weren’t present in the original. Unfortunately, this only detracts somewhat from the tension, as it’s scarier when the villain is interrupting a picture-perfect lifestyle of the heroes, as seen in the 1962 version. Robert De Niro’s bad guy’s characterization is all over the place. At least, three of the actors from the older one – Gregory Peck (as Lee Heller, a slimy lawyer), Robert Mitchum (playing Elgart, a policeman), and Martin Balsam (portraying a judge) – make cameo appearances.

Scorsese’s version of the story ups the ante (including in the violence department), but at what cost? It’s also the longer film, making it seem less taut than the 1962 one. However, it’s still a compelling thriller with some memorable scenes. It would probably be more fondly remembered if it wasn’t riding the coattails of the original, directed by J. Lee Thompson. It’s not essential viewing for film buffs, but they probably won’t regret watching it once or twice.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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