Monday, December 20, 2010

CAPE FEAR (1991)

(November 1991, U.S.)

Pay attention to what I'm about to say - remakes are generally never better than the original film! Got that? Now pay even closer attention to what I'm about to say - every once a very rare and great while, there are exceptions to that conviction. Martin Scorsese's remake of CAPE FEAR is the first such exception in my film collection. Just in case you've already forgotten the story, it's of a convicted rapist who seeks vengeance against the former public defender whom he blames for his fourteen year imprisonment due to purposefully faulty defense tactics used during his trial.

If you take a good look at every film Robert DeNiro has ever made with Martin Scorsese, you'll see that each film has often brought out the ugliest side of DeNiro's character potentials, even in the lighter-hearted NEW YORK, NEW YORK (woman abuser) and THE KING OF COMEDY (obssessed kidnapper). Whereas Robert Mitchum played Max Cady with the general roughness and toughness that seemed fitting for the 1960's, DeNiro plays the same man with an updated evil that could easily be compared to Anthony Hopkin's character Hannibal Lechter from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), although additional influence to the updated Cady character can also be credited to Robert Mitchum's character Harry Powell in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). The remake expands on the original's themes in some depth, changing relationships (the female drifter that Max Cady assaults is now a legal clerk who is close to Sam Bowden) and adding more complex background details. Nick Nolte's Sam Bowden is a morally flawed man and, therefore, his resorting to extreme violence is less surprising than in the original. Cady is presented as having a justified motive to pursue Bowden, because of Bowden's deliberate negligence of care during his original trial. In the original film, Cady essentially breaks apart a good, normal 1960's family. In the remake, the Bowdens are portrayed as a modern family already greatly troubled, and Cady simply takes the opportunity to manipulate their issues and weaknesses to his advantage, most notably in the case of their troubled fifteen year-old daughter, Danielle (played by Juliette Lewis), whom he ultimately has intensions of raping by the end of the film.

I've briefly mentioned it already, but it's most interesting to note the change in the history of the relationship between Max Cady and Sam Bowden. In this film, Bowden was Cady's lawyer who buried a report of the victim's promiscuity in order to secure a justified conviction against his own client (Cady) who had brutally raped and beaten his victim. This would seem like perfect justice, and it is. This justice comes back to haunt Bowden fourteen years later, though, and it inevitably turns into a test of his moral character and personal legal convictions in defense of himself and his family.

Okay, personal story time now. In the Summer of 1993, I was taking part in a singles share house in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. I met a guy there whom I shall call Stuart (because that's really his name). We immediately bonded as friends over this film because to put it simply, Stuart ate, drank and breathed CAPE FEAR! He loved the film and did a pretty decent impersonation of DeNiro's Max Cady. Like myself, he hadn't seen the original film yet and would not until I gave him a VHS copy of it as a birthday gift. We were good friends for seven years after that until one day...well, we weren't. Shit like that happens in life sometimes. I don't what's become of him, but I do know that I'll always remember him when I watch or think of Martin Scorses's CAPE FEAR. So it is to Stuart that I dedicate this post. Thanks for the time you were able to give.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Max Cady: "Counselor? Counselor! Councelor! Come out, come out, wherever you are! I ain't no white trash piece of shit! I'm better than you all! I can out-learn you! I can out-read you! I can out-think you! And I can out-PHILOSOPHIZE you! And I'm gonna outlast you. You think a couple whacks to my guts is gonna get me down? It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than that, Counselor, to prove you're better than me!"

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