Monday, November 9, 2009

The Remake of CAPE FEAR, or What Was Scorcese Smoking?

Because of the proliferation of Blu-Ray discs, many standard DVDs are sold inexpensively these days, so I've been piling up films I think I'd like to see one or two more times in my life, or films that look somewhat interesting, or films by great directors. With this notion in mind, I picked up Martin Scorcese's remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller, CAPE FEAR, which I believe was based on a John D. McDonald novel. I had seen the remake on a date, as I recall, so I probably wasn't paying much attention the first time around.

Scorcese has made some great films (RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, and, yes, even his Oscar-winning THE DEPARTED), and some not-so-great films with compelling moments in them (THE AVIATOR, GANGS OF NEW YORK). But this one. I don't know what the hell was going through his mind with this one. it was as if Marty said, "Okay, that original? Good flick. Subtle. Sexually charged. Dynamite. Great. Let's just up the tempo a bit, see what happens."

What happens is loud and broad and ACTED within an inch of its life. Robert DeNiro, surely one of the great actors of our generation, got it into his head that he could play a trashy southerner with a trashy southern dialect. Sorry. There's too much Tribeca in him for that. Every drawled vowel sounded like it was italicized in a bad dialect manual. Nick Nolte, as DeNiro's target throughout the film, somehow managed to keep every strand of his slicked-down hair in place as he squinted and scrunched his eyebrows trying to determine how to get DeNiro off his back. (The first thing I would have done is report DeNiro's Max Cady to the fashion police. What was he wearing in this thing?) Jessica Lang seemed to try, frame-by-frame, to out-eyebrow Nolte, and when she couldn't, she yelled. And cried. And screamed. And yelled again.

Somebody thought it was a good idea to use an update of Bernard Hermann's original soundtrack. Not so sure it was that good an idea. In the early nineties, we had reached the stage where we didn't need all that music telling us how to feel. Worked in PSYCHO. The original, that is. Not so much here.

The only moments that worked were SOME moments with the very young Juliette Lewis, who withstood one of the smarmiest scenes in movie history, when DeNiro seduces her character in a school theater, and at least showed us that some thinking was going on in her head, unlike the heads of everybody else in the movie.

Scorcese hired Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck from the original, and gave them kinda juicy parts, probably to keep them off his back when they saw the remake.

And here's the thing--I'm not saying this movie is unwatchable. It is scary at times and certainly entertaining on a number of levels.

But Scorcese?

I don't think so.

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