Cape Fear (1991)



Review by Smash of Smashing Through Life




Wow, what a wild ride this movie is. Going into it I had some preconceived notions about what was going to happen based on numerous cultural references, most notably the episode of The Simpsons that parodied it. But I was still pleasantly surprised. Mostly by Scorsese’s pacing, it was a lot quicker than I expected, but also by De Niro’s character. The thing that struck me the most was how intelligent and balanced Max Cady was despite his warped morality and misplaced sense of justice. I was expecting a lunatic stalker, but I got something much more complex and it was immensely gratifying.


Max Cady was driven, determined, clever, manipulative, and even charming at times. De Niro crafted a truly frightening psychopath with a deeply polarizing nature. He gives us a perfect marriage of creepy subtlety and unrestrained violence. Max may have high-brow aspirations, but he’ll seemingly always stumble over his aggressive baser instincts. De Niro wields his physicality deftly in this role, using it for brutish intimidation at times and non-threatening passivity at others. We see him overthrow three men who were hired to give him a vicious beating with raw fury and strength, and then go on to use the severe appearance of the injuries sustained to convey helpless victimization in the courtroom the following day. His cunning is impressive. In that moment he reveals himself a dangerous enemy to have, both physically and mentally.


De Niro is intimidating, unpredictable, and utterly captivating in this role. A formidable on screen presence. I rate it a solid…


30 thoughts on “Cape Fear (1991)

  1. Great work here Smash! Cape Fear has had a few critics in its time, from not being as good as the original to DeNiro being a bit of a cartoon, over-the-top, villain. Personally, I loved it. I thought Scorsese kept things moving and built the suspense masterfully and Cady is one of my all time favourite performances from DeNiro. I thought he was absolutely superb. So intimidating and brutal. One of the screen’s best villains in my eyes.

    • Thanks Mark! I agree with you 100%. I don’t think he was over the top or cartoonish at all. I think he delivered exactly what was needed to sell this remake and rehash the fear.

  2. Nicely done, Smash!!! This is a great movie even if it does have Juliette Lewis in it. That part where Nick Nolte goes wallowing around in blood was very unexpected…. and cool : )

  3. This is one De Niro turn that’s grown in stature over the years I think. It’s a more brutal performance than Mitchum’s in the original but is no less layered. The sheer nature of Cady means you have to play him big. Great write up.

  4. I can’t remember if I saw this one or not, but I need to see it again if I did or see it if I didn’t.

    Jessica Lange pre-American Horror Story as well 🙂 LOL

  5. Good review. My exact sentiments. Also, the rest of the case was superb, as well. This movie is top-notch all across the board.

        • That is a very difficult match-up, that’s for damn sure. If I were on the academy, I probably would have voted for De Niro myself. Mostly because he did way more acting He literally had way more screen time in Cape Fear than Hopkins did in Silence of the Lambs. And he actually filed his teeth down! That’s worth an award or two for sure.

  6. Nice review. I have to admit while DeNiro is excellent, I thought Cape Fear was mediocre and not up there with Scorsese’s high standards. Still very tense and strong at parts.

  7. Reblogged this on Smashing Through Life! and commented:
    Check it out dudes, this is my contribution to the excellent blogathon that Mark and Tyson have been running over at You Talkin’ to Me? It’s a great blog that chronicles Robert De Niro’s illustrious career. Read my review if you like, and please check out more of the entries. They’ve all been so superb!

  8. Really have to revisit this one again, must have been at least 15 years since I last saw it and except for the big bad wolf bit there is not much I can remember.

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