Today! Because granddaddy used to handle snakes in church, Granny drank strychnine –
Cape Fear (1991)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Fred Thompson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Illeana Douglas, Martin Balsam (x2)
A terrifically tense, harrowing suspense thriller, for about an hour and a half, before collapsing into ludicrously violent madness. Sure, there were certain things Scorsese was locked into doing with Cape Fear, considering it’s a remake and all, but man, some of the choices made are…well, extreme. I think it comes at an interesting point in his career, and De Niro’s too. Figure, both were coming off of Goodfellas, which should’ve finally been the movie Marty won all the Oscars for, but instead it got screwed royally (I’m never forgiving anyone for Dances With Wolves), and through some manner of lashing out, we got Cape Fear. The directing is so intense it borders on intrusive, especially in the first half hour, but it does make for some pretty artsy handling of an otherwise straightforward crime thriller.
For De Niro, this would be his last great performance – he still had some good roles left in Casino, Jackie Brown, Wag the Dog, Heat I guess, Cop Land’s okay, the comedies, the David O. Russell movies, but you never really got the impression he was fully committed in a part worthy of his talents again. His long run of phoning it in kicked off with his early ’90s choices of Mad Dog and Glory, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Night and the City. Meh (Please see, weirdly, #368’s Anger Management for more on this discussion). Look, I love De Niro’s early stuff. His first twenty years are amazing. But any talk of him being the world’s greatest actor should’ve ended around 1993. I know Oscars aren’t everything, but he’s been nominated once in the last 26 years (and only because Silver Linings Playbook got nominated for everything – he does next to nothing in that movie). It’s a severe lack of trying from someone who got six nominations and two wins in the seventeen year span before this.
But enough running the man down! De Niro is amazing as serial rapist/murderer Max Cady, out for revenge on his lackluster defense attorney Sam (Nick Nolte). His extraordinarily creepy relationship with Sam’s daughter, played by a thoroughly damaged Juliette Lewis, binds the fight scenes together, and provides the best acting moments for both. It doesn’t totally work – again, it straight avalanches apart in the finale – but there are stretches in the set up and the middle that stand with the best work Scorsese ever did.
De Niro and Lewis were Oscar, Golden Globe, and MTV Movie Awards nominated for the film, but it won none. That ends today! The above Best Overdramatic Fireworks Display is more than deserved, and it’s not even the Fourth of July! They make a point of saying this! Also, Best The Rosy Crucifixion Shoutout for Cady’s recommendation of the Henry Miller’s trilogy of the novels Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus.
1991 will get a lot of love on this list, but Cape Fear is the first. It also makes Scorsese the second director in the Two-Timers club for the Set of 400 (after #388 The Wolf of Wall Street), joining Bob Altman. Both will make future appearances as well! Stay tuned!
We’ve also got another Two-Timer on the acting side, with #374 Murder on the Orient Express great Martin Balsam, who cameo’d here as the judge. Spotlight!