For every disaster (“Psycho”) and disappointment (“Fright Night”) there’s a “Cape Fear,” a wholly refreshing reboot of the original blueprint.
It helps to have Robert De Niro as the peak of his fright powers and Martin Scorsese behind the camera.
Scorsese’s “Fear” turns the screws on the original story’s morality index. This time around, counselor Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is guilty of not providing a vigorous defense for his client, a psychopath named Max Cady (De Niro).
Cady belongs behind bars, no doubt. But Cady, spewing a litany of fractured Biblical rants, stewed over his porous defense during his long jail stay. Now, he means to right that wrong. And that requires hassling Sam and his hardly Norman Rockwell family (Jessica Lange and a precocious Juliette Lewis).
Cady pays Sam a few visits around the counselor’s bucolic turf, but soon the ex-con is pushing the boundaries of his anger, and Sam must resort to some lawless behavior to keep his family safe.
The souped up “Fear” is as pulpy as a mainstream movie director can deliver. Scorsese amps up the original’s muscular soundtrack and even throws in some reverse imagery that looks like the film negative was flipped over in the projector.
It’s all to heighten the sense of dread surrounding Cady’s mission, but De Niro really doesn’t need any help here. His Cady is brilliantly over the top, from his shady southern accent to the tats adorning his physique. It’s the kind of hyperactive performance only a great actor can pull off, and De Niro makes Cady a baddie for the ages.
The stars of the 1962 “Cape Fear,” Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, appear in fun cameos. The move might have backfired if the remake had not paid such fitting homage to the source material.
Scorsese’s “Fear” proudly stands on his own, a full-bodied thriller that embraces its genre roots without a hint of shame.
DID YOU KNOW: Screenwriter Wesley Strick felt uneasy with the original “Cape Fear’s” vigilante themes, something he addressed in the new film. “I certainly didn’t want to promote the idea that guns ultimately solve problems.”