Through suffering and “the feeling of loss” lies “salvation” in Robert De Niro’s depiction of a psychotic
ex-convict out for truth and justice in “Cape Fear”. De Niro stars as Max Cady, an ex-con who discovers in prison that his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), betrayed him by withholding crucial evidence that could have prevented his 14-year prison convicuon.
Cady, who realizes this truth by reading law books and understanding the process of the law while in prison, sets out to seek vengeance on his former lawyer. This vengeance sets Cady in an all out attempt to make Bowden realize the hell he had to suffer on account of his “judgement.”
De Niro’s depiction of Max Cady’s self righteous drive for vengeance is an extremely powerful portrayal of mans search for justice and truth. His character sets the entire plot into a morally complex state. Although this film uses the original scenario of a family being terrorized by a psychopath from the 1962 “Cape Fear,” it adds a lot more realism on both sides of the conflict.
Cady, apart from being simply a psychotic ex-convict out to terrorize a family, is a character with a cause he believes to be just. He uses the idea that he is there to “save” Bowden by making him realize the meaning of loss, something he has had to bear in prison. Quoting versus from the Bible, Cady gives a sense of moral righteousness. A sense that it is his right and obligation to make his lawyer suffer for his “sins.”
In the midst of this trivial scenario stands yet another conflict. Bowden’s 15-year old daughter, Danielle Bowden (Juliette Lewis), is an added representation of a conflict within the family. She is symbolic of innocence. Her innocence is what drives the Bowden family to an even more stressful state. Innocence though, also becomes a focal point in the film. The violation of that innocence and conviction of it is what is morally crucial.
Cady who feels he was convicted wrongfully because his lawyer judged his innocence himself, influences Danielle role by justifying his actions as a defense of that same innocence. Director Martin Scorsese (“Raging Bull,””Goodifellas”), brings a fantastic psychological suspense to the screen in “Cape Fear.” De Niro is amazing. This terrorizing role he portrays is acted out to its fullest both physically and psychologically.
No one else could have added the same effect De Niro possesses when he steps into this particular role. De Niro, who has worked with Scorsese in such films as “Mean Streets,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” and four other films, shows in “Cape Fear” that he is truly a master of portraying the viciousness and conviction of his characters.
Despite the complexity of Scorsese’s interpretation of the 1962 classic, the original music is still used. Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and Martin Balsam, all of whom starred in the 1962 film, make appearance as
well, only now they are in cameo roles. The overall effect of the films more stronger and complex interpretation, nonetheless, is not interrupted by their presence.
There is one key note to this film however because of its more suspenseful and complex nature, there are very explicit scenes that should be noted and cautioned to younger audiences. This film is very graphic. In fact,
Scorsese did such an excellent job of bringing a higher level of suspense in his revision, that he may have brought with it too much.