Cape Fear (1991)

This remake of the 1962 classic manages to do what most remakes attempt to do, which is to improve on the original story and further develop themes introduced by the original. Here, director Martin Scorsese heightens the psychological suspense inflicted upon the Bowden family by pushing the audience’s boundaries along with the characters, whether it’s through thematic content (like Robert De Niro preying on a young Juliette Lewis, exploiting her sexual awakening to get under her father’s skin) or, in a gruesome, disturbing segment, through sexual violence against women. However none of it feels exploitative: This is a socially conscious thriller, and it makes several points about the nature of social justice laws in the United States, primarily how they’re easily skirtable if one is careful and informed enough, and what it means to live in a society where harassment and violence are filtered through legal considerations and not moral ones. In addition, Scorsese’s cast expertly dives into the psychology of each character, and the result is one of the best acted movies of the 1990s: De Niro is terrifying as Max Cady while Lewis is painfully vulnerable as Danielle, and other players (like Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Ileana Douglas and Joe Don Baker) each manage to carve out memorable moments. Ultimately “Cape Fear” is one of the most underrated movies in Scorsese’s filmography, in that it’s well-remembered as a blockbuster but underappreciated as one of its decade’s best films.

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)

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