7 April 2004 | rmax304823
The climaxes are emblematic of the differences between Scorcese's version and the original. In 1962, Mitchum was ordinary, ironic, sneaky. Peck was Peck. And the climax was quiet. Crickets chirped. There was no wind. Bodies crept around in black shadows or splashed together in shallow water. In this one, Nolte is a lawyer who has broken the code and DeNiro is his nemesis, tatooed, obscene, half his face burned off, a raving maniac. Not sinister, just absolutely loco. And the confrontation is situated in a howling gale, earsplitting noise, rushing rapids, the groan of fiberglass hull splitting on rocks, blood all over the place.
I don't know that one version is in any objective sense better than the other, although I vastly prefer the earlier version. I liked Mitchum's character better. He was quite ordinary in an extraordinary way. But from the beginning DeNiro seems to overplay the role. His accent, redolent of grits and red-eye gravy, seems to sit uncomfortably on him (maybe he's played in too many New York movies), whereas Mitchum's sly Southern drawl comes out oh so naturally. And that sinister grin of Mitchum's is worth a dozen lessons at the Actor's Studio.
But there is one scene in which DeNiro outdoes Mitchum in terms of sheer impact. It's when the wrecked houseboat is being swept out into the raging river with DeNiro shackled to a stanchion about to be drowned. DeNiro launches into this fit of screaming nonsense and singing gibberish hymns, insane in a way you'll never be. It's an explosive performance.
Juliette Lewis is remarkable too. Her "umms" and "ahhs" and other hesitations fit her barely nubile personality exactly. Her scene with DeNiro in the mock Schwarzwald of the high school auditorium is impossible not to admire. Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange turn in professional performances, as do the other principal actors.
I'm not sure why I like the earlier version better. Maybe because it was so awesomely simple a story compared to this one. There was good and there was evil. We all know the world doesn't work that way, but it's fascinating to watch a simple-minded tale being spun out like a well-told fairy story. This one invites us to think about things. Unlike Lori Martin in 1962, Juliette Lewis gets a temporary case of the hots for the well-read and manipulative ex-con. And unlike Peck in 1962, Nolte has committed sins. He held back information that might have helped his client, DeNiro, because he was convinced that DeNiro was guilty and should be put away. I can't figure out what Jessica Lange or the dog did, but everybody has to be redeemed anyway because of original sin. Scorcese's Catholicism may be showing.
Overall, this is flashier in every respect than the original -- more guns, more blood, more "force majeur" -- and maybe that's part of the problem. At times it looks as much like pandering to an audience of kids raised on MTV's quick cuts and sexy bodies and on Sly Stallone's action movies. I mean that at times it felt like the movie was talking down to the audience.
Still, it's an interesting movie in its own right. Not badly done. But I wish they'd stop pushing out remakes of classics. Leave well enough alone because otherwise you're liable to find yourself in Dante's Purgatorio.