Cape Fear (1991)
In essence, Cape Fear is a conventional psychopath thriller with all the mandatory ingredients present, including an overblown downward spiral, and stodgy, semi-intellectual ethical-philosophical discussions. But in the hands of a Scorsese in a venerating mood, the film is elevated by both a stylish (almost overly slick) direction filled with Hitchcockesque suspense, as well as some devoted acting by a fine cast.
Scorsese favourite Robert De Niro is the ex-con released after 14 years in prison who is set on making life sour for his defense attorney (played by Nick Nolte in fine rejuvenated form) whom he holds responsible for his sentence. De Niro is instantly spellbinding with his impressive physical presence and sinister appearance, but his character ultimately hasn't (or isn't provided) the depth and substance to back him up. In the end, Scorsese uses him as a thriller puppet instead of letting us under his skin.
Before that, however, the film enters remarkably interesting territory with its interior look at an exteriorly idyllic family, and how the outside threat affects them – for better or worse. Jessica Lange is a delicately fickle equilibrium, whereas Juliette Lewis is sensational as the enticing, ambivalent daughter –her scene with De Niro in the theatre being by far the film's best, showing a thematic depth that Scorsese can't quite follow up on towards the end.
It might be worth noting that the film is at its best when the dialogue between the main characters is ad-libbed, something that doesn't vouch for Wesley Strick's commonplace script. Still, Scorsese maintains his alluring suspense and style throughout, and manages to convey the duality in all the leading characters, giving the film more quality than the ending is able to squeeze out.