Wesley Stricks script follows the original closely, evens some aspects out, while making the original storys black-and-white certainties a little more ambiguous. It also gives far stronger motivation to Cady. In the original, Bowden was a lawyer who happened to witness Cady assault a woman; here Wesley Strick ties Bowdens profession much more closely to the plot in having Bowden being Cadys defender and having withheld evidence in order to see Cady convicted. It is far stronger motivation for Cady than the original where he was coming after Bowden simply because Bowden witnessed Cady beating up a woman. Similarly, the Bowden family image is less wholesome and cleancut this time Cady plays upon their weaknesses and the film is about the familys crumbling from within rather than their assault as an unquestionable unified unit from without.
While undeniably spectacular, the remake disappoints. Martin Scorsese adopts a restlessly edgy style with his camera constantly darting into extreme closeups and looming foreground shots, while the soundtrack amplifies the bang of every door and window into a physical bodyslam. It is a terribly busy and skittish film, Scorsese never stays still for a moment. However, this gets in the way of the story and all of the hyperactivity is never any patch on the superb film noir atmosphere generated by director J. Lee Thompson in the original. Case in point being the houseboat climax. In the original, this was a tour-de-force of suspense and finally of brutish confrontation but here is blown up into a big action movie-styled climax as the houseboat is caught in a storm where the scale of the action tends to lose the tightness of the tension.
Robert De Niros performance garnered an Academy Award nomination. Appreciably, De Niro brings a dangerous intelligence to the role that Robert Mitchum never had in the original, but it is still Robert De Niro serving up the same smiling De Niro leer and lopsided twinkle that has served him from Taxi Driver (1976) through Awakenings (1990) without variation. It is a performance that becomes irritably broad. It lacks anything internal, one never sees the obsessiveness that drives the character.
In fact, it is the quieter performances of the piece that impress more. Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange are in roles that do not require any dramatic stretching, but both are good, especially she. Best of all is young Juliette Lewis in the performance that brought her to world attention. Her blend of naive vulnerability and sullen moodiness allow for the most emotionally wracking part of the film the scene where Robert De Niro seduces her, where Martin Scorsese momentarily forgets about his hyperactive camera and leaves the scene a bare stage. The scene is memorable not so much for Robert De Niros leering persuasiveness but for the terrible way in which we see her vulnerable naivete being torn open. All Scorsese needs to do here is show him placing a thumb inside her mouth to show her physical violation.
Cape Fear was spoofed in Fatal Instinct (1993).
Martin Scorseses other genre films include:- Taxi Driver (1976), a remarkable work about urban psychosis and a disturbed Vietnam Vet taxi driver; the urban ghost story of Bringing Out the Dead (1999); Shutter Island (2010), a reality-bending psycho-thriller set in a sinister asylum; and the childrens film Hugo (2011) about silent filmmaker Georges Melies.