Cape Fear (1991)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Smart and stylish, Cape Fear is a gleefully mainstream shocker from Martin Scorsese, with a terrifying Robert De Niro peformance.

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Movie Info

A remake of the 1962 version, this nail-biting and brutal thriller tells the story of a vengeful ex-con who sets out to ruin the lawyer who sent him to prison for committing a series of rapes 14 years before. The plot is based on a story by John D. MacDonald. Look carefully and see cameo appearances by a few stars from the original version.
Rating: R (for strong violence, and for language)
Genre: Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Wesley Strick
In Theaters: wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
MCA/Universal Pictures

Cast

Nick Nolte
as Sam Bowden
Jessica Lange
as Leigh Bowden
Juliette Lewis
as Danielle Bowden
Joe Don Baker
as Claude Kersek
Robert Mitchum
as Lt. Elgart
Gregory Peck
as Lee Heller
Illeana Douglas
as Lori Davis
Fred Dalton Thompson
as Tom Broadbent
Zully Montero
as Graciella
Craig Henne
as Prisoner
Forest Burton
as Prisoner
Rod Ball
as Prisoner
W. Paul Bodie
as Prisoner
Joel Kolker
as Corrections Officer
Antoni Corone
as Corrections Officer
Tamara Jones
as Ice Cream Cashier
Roger Pretto
as Racquetball Colleague
Parris Buckner
as Racquetball Colleague
Margot Moreland
as Secretary
Bruce E. Holdstein
as Arresting Officer
Robert L. Gerlach
as Arresting Officer
Richard Wasserman
as Parade Watcher
Paul Nagle Jr.
as Parade Watcher
Paul Froehler
as Parade Watcher
Mary Ellen O'Brien
as Parade Watcher
Jodie Wilson
as Parade Watcher
Jody Wilson
as Parade Watcher
Kate Colburn
as Waitress
Domenica Cameron-Scorsese
as Dani's Girlfriend
Garr Stevens
as 1st Big Man
Billy Lucas
as 2nd Big Man
Ken Collins
as 3rd Big Man
Linda Perri
as Ticket Agent
Elizabeth Moyer
as Ticket Agent
Catherine Scorsese
as Fruit Stand Customer
Charles Scorsese
as Fruit Stand Customer
Jackie Davis
as Jimmy the Dockmaster
Chad Dowdell
as Jim (uncredited)
Domenica Scorsese
as Danny's Girlfriend
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News & Interviews for Cape Fear

Critic Reviews for Cape Fear

All Critics (46) | Top Critics (10)

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

It's hard to understand why Martin Scorsese wanted to remake a nasty, formulaic 1962 thriller whose only "classic" credentials are a terrifying performance by Robert Mitchum and a Bernard Herrmann score.

Full Review… | May 24, 2011
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Smart and stylish.

Full Review… | August 6, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Overblown horror-schlocker.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Stay away if you're squeamish but, if you do, you'll miss an essential work by one of our masters, as well as two of the year's most accomplished performances, those of Mr. De Niro and Ms. Lewis.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Though Scorsese doesn't always transcend the pulp in Cape Fear, watching him try allows us to share the exhilaration he experiences behind the camera.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Cape Fear

½

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Directors Cat
Directors Cat
½

Loved De Niro and the suspense was solid.

Matt Goodman
Matt Goodman

Martin Scorsese is a director that has a massive reputation on the sub-genre of gangster movies but he's never really been known to tackle a specific genre itself. Due to a contractual obligation with Universal studios and the encouragement of friends Robert DeNiro and Steven Spielberg (who was originally supposed to be the director), he decided to go ahead with this 1991 horror/thriller, making it his first genre and Hollywood movie and also his first remake. After 14 years in prison, psychopath Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) is released where he begins to seek revenge on his former lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). He believes that Bowden deliberately held back a report during his trial that would have saved him doing time and vows to make Bowden's life a living hell by terrorising him and his family. The original Cape Fear was released in 1962 and Scorsese makes great references to it. He employs the original actors Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck and Martin Balsam in cameo roles and has Elmer Bernstein adapt the Hitchcokian original score by Bernard Herrmann. Despite the courteous regard to the original though, Scorsese makes this film his own and updates the material for a contemporary audience by using a more layered approach. He delivers more of a backstory and questions the ethical and moral history of not just DeNiro's character but also Nolte's. As we are introduced to them, Nolte's Sam Bowden dresses in pastel coloured suits and exudes an air of righteousness and innocence while DeNiro's Max Cady is a cigar chomping, tattooed brute. All is not exactly black and white between them though and there's also tension and discord between Sam and his long suffering wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and their awkward teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis). Meanwhile, a manipulative and calculating Cady gets his revenge by using the conflicts within the family. By delving more into his characters, Scorsese skilfully cranks up the tension and with superb production design by Henry Bumstead and marvellous cinematography by Freddie Francis he manages to create a real sense of claustrophobia within the family household. While everyone are doing their job behind the scenes though, the ones in front are delivering some of their career best performances. The entire cast deliver the goods here; Nolte and Lange's on-edge, afflicted couple couldn't be better and a young - Oscar nominated - Juliette Lewis is a revelation as the awkward, self-conscious impressionable teenager. However, despite these excellent deliveries, this is DeNiro's film. He is absolutely outstanding and delivers a character that is amongst the finest of his career and another highly impressive transformation; his physique is in exceptional peak condition (apparently he brought his body fat down to 3%) and he has a creepy southern accent that just rings in your ears. The foreboding and malevolent presence that DeNiro shows is deeply unsettling and he, like Lewis, also received an Oscar nomination. Personally, I hold the opinion that he should have taken the award that year. He's such a threatening character and one of cinema's most frightening. The only major problem I had with the film was the denouement. It veers heavily into formulaic territory and despite it sharing the themes of a horror movie, the ending is just a bit too far. For the most part though, Scorsese's audacity pays off and it's an highly admirable addition to his impressive canon. It may lack the subtlety of the original and if it wasn't for the extreme horror denouement, this film would be worthy of a rating higher than the 4 stars I've given it. That being said, it's still one of the most powerful and memorable performances that DeNiro has ever produced.

Mark Walker
Mark Walker

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