Cape Fear

Ugh what a disturbing movie. Anchored by De Niro’s intensity and some off the wall filmmaking choices, this movie has some in your face horror and some insidious horror by implication that still makes my skin crawl.

I love the early for film. It was this strange time where big studios gave auteur directors tons of money to make whatever they wanted. And we got some wild flights of filmmaking fancy. De Palma, Scorsese, and Spielberg just to name a few got big budgets to make 3 hour Holocaust films, epic book adaptations, and remakes of Hollywood classics.

It’s the remakes where we find todays movie. Martin Scorsese was handed a big budget and relative creative freedom to make his version of the 1962 thriller of the same name. Scorsese decided to borrow from the classic Hollywood style book to make the film. His techniques here closely resemble Alfred Hitchcock. He uses the camera and staging in a very reminiscent style that a lot of viewers will probably find a little jarring. I know I did.

The film follows lawyer Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte, as he is menaced by Max Cady, De Niro. Cady is a former client of Bowden. He spent 14 years in prison due to a poor defense that Bowden launched on his behalf. Cady is back for vengeance. He does everything he can to legally harass Bowden and destroy his life. Bowden eventually takes the law into his own hands to protect his family.

Robert De Niro is incredible. He is terrifying. He’s charming. He’s seductive. He’s crazy. He never goes over the line to camp. He is intense and scary throughout. He’s scary when he’s beating people to death. He’s scary when he’s sexually assaulting a woman. He’s scary when he’s charmingly chatting up a woman at a bar. He’s especially scary when he’s talking to an underage girl.

Cady poses as a teacher to get close to Bowden’s 15 year old daughter Danielle played by Juliette Lewis. Cady is calm. He’s understanding. He gets her alone. He offers her weed. He listens to her problems and relates to her on her level. She is nervous and charmed and confused. She is enamored but his dangerous qualities. She clearly likes feeling seen. As I’m watching the scene I’m thinking of how often this happens in real life. Bad men have evil intentions, and all they have to do is turn on the charm and listen to the underage girls. It’s chilling how this scene plays out. It’s handled so well by Scorsese and the actors. The scene takes it’s time. It unfolds slowly. Nothing really happens in the scene except two people talking. The subtext is horrifying. When he finally asks if he can put his arm around her I was jumping out of my seat the same way I do when there’s a good jump scare in a movie. It’s more terrifying because it’s so much more real.

In other areas of the movie however, there’s less reality. Specifically the filmmaking is wildly theatrical. Scorsese goes on these flights of filmmaking bravado. It’s like he’s showing off. There’s a moment where Cady is sitting on the Bowdens fence and watching them while the worlds biggest fireworks display goes off behind him. Bowden wakes up from a nightmare and sees Cady in his bedroom, but the image turns into a negative until Bowden clears his vision. There are no transitions in this movie. Scenes just slam into each other like cars in a pileup. This increases the tension but reminds us we’re in movie land.

This is not a fun or pleasant movie to watch. Bowden is a morally compromised man facing a man he wronged. There are no good guys in this movie. A scummy lawyer vs. a rapist. There is violence, sexual assault, and terror. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is very good at what it sets out to do.

It’s my cup of tea. It’s a good movie, but it’s not for everybody. A

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