This brutal, violent and suspenseful thriller combines a scorching performance by Robert Deniro, sumptuous location photography, and a powerful script that raises disturbing questions about religion, sex, and class distinctions in our so-called classless society.
At first glance Max Cady seems to be just another creep, a rapist and convict out to torment and humiliate a nice, upper-middle class family. "He's an ex-con," yuppie lawyer Sam Bowden smugly says, with fatuous self-satisfaction. But gradually it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem. The wholesome, "superior" middle class family is rotten with corruption, while the vicious, "psychotic" ex-con is a man of extraordinary courage, intelligence, and spiritual strength. Even his most horrible acts of violence are connected to the corrupt and self-serving behavior of his "betters." What makes this movie work so well is that director Martin Scorsese breaks away from his usual mean streets milieu. If Max Cady had been an Italian wise guy, the movie would have made excuses for him. The outcome would have been predictable. But here the great director remains an impartial observer of criminal behavior, rather than a sentimental apologist for ethnic violence. (As in GANGS OF NEW YORK.) Max Cady is pure evil, but he speaks the truth about the evil of allowing class distinctions to flourish in a so-called "democracy." When it came out, this movie was reviled by critics, especially by effete yuppies like Terence Rafferty at GQ and VANITY FAIR. Most of them whined about the violence, but it was painfully clear that what really disturbed them was the possibility that an ugly ex-con really could be smarter, tougher, and more virtuous than a spoiled yuppie lawyer.
Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte)is a small-town corporate attorney/"Leave It to Beaver" type family-man. Max Cady (Robert De Niro) is a tattooed, cigar-smoking, bible-quoting, rapist. What do they have in common? Fourteen years, ago Sam was a public defender assigned to Max Cady's rape trial, and he made a serious error: he hid a document from his illiterate client that could have gotten him acquitted. Now, the cagey, bibliophile Cady has been released, and he intends to teach Sam Bowden and his family a thing or two about loss.
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