Friday, April 15, 2016
Cape Fear (1991 film)
Based on the novel The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, Cape Fear is the story of a convicted rapist who has been released from a 14-year prison stint as he decides to go after the attorney who put him in jail through some moments of injustice. Directed by Martin Scorsese and screenplay by Wesley Strick that is based on James R. Webb‘s script of the 1962 film, the film is a remake/homage of sorts to the 1962 film of the same name as it plays more into a man who is hell-bent on making the life of a public defender and his family a living hell. Starring Robert de Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Illeana Douglas, Joe Don Baker, and special appearances from Martin Balsam, Robert Mitchum, and Gregory Peck from the 1962 film. Cape Fear is a thrilling and mesmerizing film from Martin Scorsese.
The film is a simple story of a released convict who served a 14-year sentence for a rape charge as he decides to make the life of the man, who put him in jail for mishandling his case, a living hell. It is a revenge story of sorts as a battle of wits and wills between this convict and an attorney yet it is the convict that feels wronged where an attorney’s past actions are catching up with him. Even as the sins of this attorney named Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) have his own family live in fear but also wonder what did he do as Bowden is driven to the edge to protect them with the help of a private investigator where things don’t go very well.
Wesley Strick’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the dynamics of two men but also a growing sense of distrust towards Bowden from his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis). Especially as the former is suspicious of Sam’s supposed infidelities while the latter would have her own meeting with the convicted man in Max Cady (Robert de Niro) who would charm her. All of which adds to Bowden’s determination to rid of Cady one way or the other but at the cost of his own reputation and who he is as a man.
Martin Scorsese’s direction is definitely very stylish for not just the fact that he pays homage to the original 1962 film by J. Lee Thompson. It is also a film in which Scorsese pays homage to the many thrillers and suspense films of the past while doing something that is an update of sorts to those genres. Shot largely on location in South Florida as well as some sequences shot in Universal Studios Hollywood, the film does set itself in the American South but in a more modern idea of the South as it tries to maintain elements of tradition but in a world that is ever-changing. With its stylish usage of wide and medium shots along with some close-ups, Scorsese would go for something that is very stylistic in the way he would put actors into a frame where one would be in the foreground and the other in the background.
Scorsese also provides these moments that are quite surreal with its usage of different film stocks, color schemes, and moments that feel very artificial as it relates to the fear that is growing in Sam and his family. It says a lot to this kind of reality that Bowden has created but one that feels false where Cady would come in and disrupt everything as if he is this wronged man that is trying to make their lives a living hell. Featuring some dazzling imagery that includes this exotic opening credits sequence created by Saul and Elaine Bass that serves as a homage to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. It would add to the film’s unique look with some stylish camera angles that Scorsese would inject as it would also play into the film’s climax that is set on a river. The impact of the violence as well as some religious-based imagery would say a lot into what is happening where it does take place on this houseboat where it is about not just some truths coming out but also what one is willing to do to survive. Overall, Scorsese creates an exhilarating yet provocative film about a convicted rapist stalking and preying on lawyer for the sins he had committed.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography with its usage of different film stocks and lighting schemes for some of the surreal sequences while creating some moods in the lighting for some of exteriors scenes in the day and at night. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish montages for some of the more eerie sequences that play into Bowden‘s fear as well as some stylish rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense, drama, and much of its dark humor. Production designer Henry Bumstead, with set decorator Alan Hicks and art director Jack G. Taylor Jr., does excellent work with the look of the Bowden home to play into its sense of artificial world that Sam lives in to the look of the houseboat for the film‘s climax.
Costume designer Rita Ryack does nice work with the costumes from the more casual and clean look of the Bowden family to the stylish clothes that Cady wears. The hair/makeup work of Ilona Herman does fantastic work with the look of Cady from his slick hair to the tattoos on his body that features a lot of religious text and imagery. Sound editor Skip Lievsay does superb work with the sound in the way some of the quieter moments such as Danielle‘s meeting with Cady sounds like in its intimacy to the chilling moments in the film‘s climax. The film’s music largely consists of the film score Bernard Herrmann made for the 1962 film as it is adapted by Elmer Bernstein which does maintain that air of suspense and high drama as it proves anything that was used in the past can still be used again while the soundtrack would also feature music from Guns N‘ Roses and Aretha Franklin.
The casting by Ellen Lewis is wonderful as it features some notable small roles from Zully Montero as the Bowden’s family maid Graciella, Fred Dalton Thompson as Bowden’s law partner Tom Broadbent, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese as Danielle’s friend, Charles and Catherine Scorsese as a couple of fruit stand customers, and Martin Balsam in a terrific cameo appearance as a judge who would disbar Bowden early in the film’s third act. Illeana Douglas is fantastic as the law clerk Lori Davis who is rumored to be Bowden’s mistress until she has a meeting with Cady that would prove to be extremely ugly. Gregory Peck is excellent in his brief yet mesmerizing appearance as Cady’s attorney Lee Heller who would defend the man after an assault as he would have this passionate plea to disbar Bowden. Robert Mitchum is brilliant as Lt. Elgart as this police detective who realizes what is happening to Bowden and what Cady is doing as he sort of plays the film’s conscience in telling Bowden to not descend into darkness which is a surprise since Mitchum played Cady in the 1962 film. Joe Don Baker is amazing as Claude Kersek as a private detective who tries to see what Cady is up to while realizing that he is in the middle of a game where does whatever he can to stop Cady.
Juliette Lewis is incredible as Danielle as this 15-year old girl who deals with the chaos surrounding her family as she becomes intrigued by Cady and the books she is given until she realizes the severity of his terror. Jessica Lange is remarkable as Leigh Bowden as a wife/artist who deals with not just Cady’s presence but also the sins of her husband as she has a hard time trusting him. Nick Nolte is marvelous as Sam Bowden as an attorney who is terrorized by a man he was supposed to defend only to bury evidence that could’ve given Cady a lesser sentence as he tries to outwit Cady only to realize the flaws of himself. Finally, there’s Robert de Niro in a phenomenal performance as Max Cady where de Niro brings a charm that just exudes in every moment he is in as well as a sense of terror that is menacing as it one of de Niro’s most definitive performances.
Cape Fear is a sensational film from Martin Scorsese that features great performances from Robert de Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Juliette Lewis. In being an updated version of the 1962 film as well as a homage to that film, Scorsese creates a film that isn’t just a thriller that oozes with excitement and terror. It’s also a study of sin and what one man would do to make another man pay for his sins. In the end, Cape Fear is a riveting film from Martin Scorsese.
Related: Cape Fear (1962 film)
Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) - (Street Scenes) - (Boxcar Bertha) - (Mean Streets) - (Italianamerican) - Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Taxi Driver - (American Boy: A Profile on Steven Prince) - (New York, New York) - (The Last Waltz) - Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - (After Hours) - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - (Goodfellas) - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) - (Casino) - (Kundun) - (My Voyage to Italy) - Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) - Gangs of New York - (The Aviator) - (No Direction Home) - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) - (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The 50 Year Argument) - (Silence (2016 film))
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