Did you ever hear the story about Anthony Hopkins robbing Robert De Niro? I couldn’t believe it either, given the immense grace and dignity Sir Anthony possesses, and the presumed mutual respect between the thespians. But it’s true: at the Academy Awards in 1992, Hopkins punched De Niro square in the jaw before grabbing his shoulders, kneeing him in the gut, and taking the Best Actor trophy for that year. No charges were ever filed and the incident was buried by the Hollywood elite to protect both men’s reputations.
Ok, maybe it didn’t go down quite like that, but it might as well have. The two men faced off for the Best Actor trophy that year for their respective, iconic, villainous turns: De Niro as the slippery Max Cady in Cape Fear, and Hopkins as the cannibal man-nibal Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (or as my father labeled our bootleg VHS copy back in the day, ‘Quiet Baaa’s’). Both performances are deservedly legendary, and in a perfect world, both men would have walked out of the ceremony that year with Oscars.
See, there’s an issue when it comes to who was nominated where that year. Anthony Hopkins, who was on screen for a grand total of 15 minutes in the 2 hour film, had no business being placed in the Best Actor category. They have a place for roles as small and, when it came down to it, inconsequential to the main story as his turn as Lecter: Best SUPPORTING Actor, which he would have won walking away (no offense intended to the late Jack Palance). Hopkins is fantastic and deserving of the universal praise he received for his part in the thriller (though I prefer Mads Mikkelsen’s restrained portrayal of Dr. Lecter to Hopkins slightly hammy take). But again, he’s barely in the film, isn’t the main character or even the main VILLAIN, and arguably not the best performer from the cast (hello, Clarice).
Max Cady, on the other hand, is Cape Fear. There literally is no film without De Niro’s chilling performance, who’s menacing, calculating character dominates every scene (whether he’s on screen or not). His release from prison and journey towards slow, drawn out revenge against a corrupt former public defender, who didn’t represent Cady to the best of their ability 14 years earlier, drives the entire film. There’s no story or reason for it to exist without the presence of Max Cady, and the film would not be as well regarded were it not for the tour de force performance by Robert De Niro. He is an absolute monster in the film, the big bad wolf come to life, and seems like an entirely different human being than the renowned method actor. He is the psychopathic, bible-verse-tattooed, masochistic maniac with the southern drawl and creepy-as-fuck grin. This is some real acting here, folks, some of the best of Robert De Niro’s career. And he was robbed.
Obviously, De Niro survived the theft unscathed, and neither man presumably cares all that much about the results of a subjective award given out almost 30 years ago. Really, they shouldn’t, because art isn’t about winning awards or earning accolades. It’s about truth, and self expression, and…all that shit. With or without an Oscar trophy for his role, De Niro should feel fulfilled for what he did with Max Cady and the work he put into the final product. Still, when it comes down to pontificating on the past, it’s crystal clear: Robert De Niro is the true owner of that Oscar.