Cape Fear (1991)

by British Film Critic

Martin Scorsese is, and always has been, an incredibly diverse and versatile filmmaker, jumping from gangster flicks to meditative character studies to period fantasy movies with ease and prestige, and in Cape Fear, Scorsese tries his luck with a Hitchcockian thriller that, despite the aforementioned diversity of his films, feels so distinct from the rest of his filmography.

The director works with resident talent Robert De Niro in one of what I can only assume would be one of his most challenging roles, yet one of his best all the same, as a psychotic, seemingly unstoppable convicted rapist who feels he was wronged by his public defender (Nick Nolte), and upon release, won’t falter until he has torn the perhaps not so innocent lawyer’s personal and professional life to pieces.

I’ve never seen a film where Robert De Niro has given a less than excellent performance so I really shouldn’t be surprised when he does it again, but it’s always brilliant to have an actor on screen as consistent and as versatile as De Niro, who feels like an entirely different person in Cape Fear.

This story of revenge, retribution and regret is incredibly character-driven, and so having such an excellent character actor taking the reigns as the despicable antagonist is really a blessing for this film. Wesley Strick’s screenplay makes room for some fantastic monologues, one-liners and various other moments – whilst pacing was an obvious issue around the middle of the film with little forward momentum, the dialogue and writing, particularly in the film’s conclusion, really stick with you.

The film’s cinematographer Freddie Francis does a phenomenal job behind the camera, always seeking out creative, inventive ways to frame his shots, with real energy to his camera movements – I’d also be amiss to not recognise the emphatic, foreboding score that underscores the entire film, composed by the brilliant Bernard Herrman and constructed by Elmer Bernstein.

Cape Fear does everything it needed to do, and then some, making for a noticeably different yet similarly captivating entry into Martin Scorsese’s filmography.