Robert De Niro received his sixth Oscar nomination for portraying psychopathic rapist Max Cady in Cape Fear.
I mention Mitchum for two reasons the first being I feel his cameo performance deserves some recognition, and secondly that Mitchum's original performance is a useful source to show the problems of De Niro's performance. One of the first and most obvious problems with his performance is the accent he uses for Cady. Like Mitchum he uses a southern accent for Cady, but where Mitchum's accent was subdued and well done, De Niro's is unfortunately over the top like the type people use to make fun of people with a southern accent. An accent usually does not ruin a performance, but it is incredibly harmful for his performance, because he is suppose to be scary and frightening, and his accent really harms his ability to do this.
Now there are some strengths that he and Mitchum share in their performance as Cady. Mitchum all the time and De Niro some of the time show Cady as a man who seems calm and oddly cool on the outside, but suggests the psychopath brilliantly below the surface. De Niro does this very well in his scene with Juliette Lewis, his scene where he picks up Nick Nolte's co-worker, and when he talks to Nolte in his car, and discusses what Nolte really owes him for what he did. De Niro is very effective here showing his charm and hatred very well subtly. I think Mitchum trumps De Niro when the psychopath comes out though. De Niro does it well enough in two thirds of the film even if it is in a more obvious way, but Mitchum seems to be really truly psychotic, and less movie psychotic.
De Niro does have strength in his performance but all the good parts of his performance become drained out in my opinion in the last segment of the film, maybe drained by all the rain I do not know. De Niro simply goes way too over the top in the final struggle, where Mitchum on the other hand perfectly nailed it. De Niro starts over the top with all his screaming but just gets worse and worse as the struggle goes on. He really goes way too far after his face gets burned, he starts yelling and screaming, and it is way too unrealistic and really not scary at all. Finally his performance comes to a terrible close when he starts rambling and joking at the very end. He was unintentionally funny, if it was suppose to be funny that it simply made no sense tonally either, and was especially unrealistic. De Niro is certainly a good actor and gives a fairly effective performance at first, but his performance ends up as just wrong.