A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cape Fear is a violent revenge thriller, with references and scenes of sexual assault, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro. It is a remake of the 1962 movie of the same name. Convicted rapist Max Cady (De Niro) blames his former lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), for his incarceration and is determined to make him pay. The violence is bloody and involves guns, bike chains, pipes, rocks, and a piano wire used to cut someone's throat. A woman is brutally assaulted in her bed by Max after drunkenly meeting him at a bar. She has her arm broken and part of her cheek bitten off leaving a nasty wound. She is then repeatedly punched, a scene witnessed in silhouette form. It is then revealed that Max raped her. She in part wrongly blames her drunkenness for the assault. In another scene, Max is about to rape both Sam's wife, Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis) in front of him while he's tied up. However, Danielle throws a flammable liquid on Max causing his cigar to set him on fire. Many characters smoke, with Sam taking up smoking during the course of the movie. Danielle also smokes some pot given to her by Max. There is strong language throughout including multiple use of "f--king" and "son of a bitch." Both De Niro and Lewis were Oscar nominated for their roles.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Is it any good?
With its dramatic score to a shirtless, heavily-tattooed De Niro exercising in his prison cell, the mood for this violent revenge thriller is set in its opening scene. There's no slow buildup here. Nolte's North Carolina lawyer, Sam Bowden may have forgotten who De Niro's convicted rapist Max Cady is, but Max sure hasn't forgotten who he blames for his incarceration. After being released, Max heads straight to Sam's town to exact 14 years worth of payback. Subtle it's not, but then Cape Fear doesn't pretend to be. The violence is full-on and the sense of danger -- including a constant threat of sexual violence -- is deliberately unsettling.
The movie marks the seventh time Martin Scorsese and De Niro worked together and the trust between the two is evident. De Niro cranks it up to 10. A lesser director might have reined in his leading man, but here he allows De Niro to portray Max as an unhinged menace capable of extreme acts of violence at any given moment. The actor was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, as was Lewis as the rebellious Danielle -- the most likable of all the characters. Film buffs will also get a thrill seeing actors from the original 1962 version -- including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck -- crop up in this remake. Cape Fear is far from Scorsese's best work. It’s also an uncomfortable watch, which is exactly what it sets out to be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the extreme and sexual violence in Cape Fear. Why do you think Scorsese chose to make the violence so intense and bloody? Why did he include a rape scene? What effect does it have on the movie overall?
Sam withheld some evidence at Max's trial. Why did he do this? Can you understand why he did? Discuss the idea that everyone deserves a fair trial.
This film marks the seventh collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro. What are the advantages of working with someone you know so well? What are the disadvantages? What's your favorite Scorsese/De Niro movie, and why?
The movie is a remake of a 1962 film. How do the two compare? In general, what do you think of remakes?
- In theaters: November 15, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2005
- Cast: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, and for language
- Last updated: July 7, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love thrillers
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch