Cape Fear (1991)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Nowadays a remake of a movie is somewhat commonplace. But in Hollywood some ten years ago, it wasn’t. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to take a classic thriller and update it for “today”. In this case, it worked. But in the days of Psycho and Planet of the Apes being remade into movies that are far less than their previous counterparts, Cape Fear stood tall and even managed to take home a nomination for Best Picture. While it’s true that the storyline is the same, the faces and places aren’t…sort of. We do see some actors that graced the original storyline; Robert Mitchum, who played the original Max Cady and Gregory Peck who played the original Sam Bowden do have cameo parts. But it’s the cast and director who work well and make this new, updated version of Cape Fear a modern masterpiece. Yes, I said “Modern Masterpiece”…and I’m not writing for a trailer or a magazine. I personally feel that this is one of Robert DeNiro’s best roles; and he’s had some good ones. Whereas the original Cape Fear focused on a normal family being menaced by an obsessive psychopath, we find a much different family in the version for the 90’s. This family has problems, it’s almost dis-functional. The daughter has almost been expelled from school for smoking pot, the husband and wife have had marital problems (he is currently on the verge of an affair) and to top it off, Sam is an unethical lawyer. So how does all of this work to Cape Fear’s advantage?

We learn real quick that it’s Max Cady (Robert DeNiro) who is getting out of prison and it’s clear that he only has one thing on his mind…revenge. Revenge from what? Max was an uneducated “country bumpkin” from the hills of Georgia some 14 years prior to his conviction of the rape of a woman. But as we find out through the course of the movie, he has learned to read and write and it seems that the law is what he’s most interested in. Having relocated his family, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is enjoying a prosperous life as an attorney in a small southern town. But it’s not too long after Cady’s release that he makes his presence, and intentions, known to Sam. After attempting to reason with Max, Sam tries to buy Max out of his life. That doesn’t work. Working with his legal friends, Max manages to remain on the good side of the law and all the while make Sam out to be the bad guy; even turning his own wife and daughter against him to some extreme. Now, Sam must not only convince his friends of why Max is trying to do what he is going to do, but his family as well. To Sam, it seems that the world has turned a deaf ear to his problems that are right in his face!

Things finally start to turn Sam’s way when he enlists the help of a local investigator (Joe Don Baker). His family starts to see that Max is truly crazy and will stop at nothing to see that vengeance is extracted on Sam, no matter what the cost. As I mentioned before, this is a remake of the classic thriller released some thirty years earlier. A lot has changed in Hollywood and the world in general since then and Director Martin Scorsese has captured the eerieness of both Max Cady and the Bowden family in fine form. We are led to feel sorry for the Bowden’s, but at the same time we can see Max’s motivation. He was imprisoned wrongfully and it was a judgment call by Sam as to weather or not he (Max) go to jail. He did. The plot works as do the characters and the actors portraying them. Oscar winners abound in Robert DeNiro, Jessica Lange as Leigh Bowden and the ever-popular Gregory Peck. With a 2-disc offering from Universal, this new version of Cape Fear is more than worth your time and money. Come out, come out wherever you are…and buy it!

Video: How does it look?

Presented in a THX certified 2.35:1 anamorphic image, the picture on Cape Fear has never looked better. Universal has smartly added all of the supplements on the second disc and left only the movie and the dual Dolby Digital/DTS tracks on the first disc, thus allowing for the maximum possible space for the image to “strut it’s stuff”. While the picture has never looked better, it isn’t perfect by any means. There are a few isolated incidents of some edge enhancement and some scenes appear to be lacking in detail. While this may not be expected for a new to DVD movie, it’s somewhat expected for a movie that is ten years old. Black levels are right on target as most of this movie is dark (both literally and figuratevely). I noticed a wee bit of artifacting, but nothing that didn’t go away as soon as I realized what it was. For the most part, this is a great-looking transfer that makes me want to watch the movie all over again. But it does have some negatives and hence the score. Still, the movie has never looked better and you’ll find it hard to beat.

Audio: How does it sound?

Not only is Cape Fear presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but a new DTS mix is also included. Originally, I chose to listen to the DTS mix, but went back and watched (listened rather) to the Dolby Digital mix. I can say that, as per usual, the DTS has it’s advantages and I would give the edge to the DTS mix. Some discrete sounds and effects such as the clicking of the gun, the moving of the teddy bear and the creaking of the boat’s boards give the edge here. While the Dolby Digital packs more punch, I found it a much more exciting experience with the DTS option. Of course, had there been no DTS, I can say that there is certainly nothing wrong with the Dolby Digital option. The center channel, consisting of mainly dialogue, is free of any distortion (no matter how sloppy Nick Nolte’s voice can seem) and the surrounds are given a workout here as well. Truly, this is the best that the film has sounded since it’s release ten years ago (and I’m willing to bet that that in certain home theaters, it sounds better than the orignal). While not reference quality, it’s the next closest thing.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Cape Fear is one of only a few on Universal’s two disc “Special Edition” sets. The first disc, as I mentioned before, comes equipped with the movie and the two audio tracks. The second disc, however, is the one that has all the goodies. First up is the documentary “The Making of Cape Fear”. This clocks in at an hour an twenty minutes and is very informative. While longer than some movies, we get interviews with the cast and crew then (1991) and now (1999) as well as how the movie was made and why. From beginning to end, we are shown what is involved in making the movie…or remaking I should say. A very informative documentary, one of the better I’ve seen. There are also around ten minutes of deleted scenes, but they have no commentary and are spliced together. While we’re left to guess as to why they were deleted, I would rather have had some in the movie. But that’s just me…There are also two featurettes; one is focused on the Fourth of July Parade and how it was so hard to shoot and the other is the houseboat scene (and exactly how and why it was so hard to shoot). Yes, nothing is easy when it comes to film. Some matte paintings are shown as we notice that not everything in “Cape Fear” is real as well as the Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer and a few trailers. All in all, it’s a very good offering from Universal who sometimes disappoints. Pick this one up.

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