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Bringing out the Dead

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Bringing out the Dead

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genres: Drama, Comedy

*Also starring: Tom Sizemore, John Goodman, Marc Anthony, Ving Rhames

Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

Robert Richardson's familiar light filled cinematography showers scenes of close up intimacy the way they have in many other films but it is particularly startling in the case of 'Bringing Out the Dead'. Set in the early 90's in New York City, Nicolas Cage stars as a paramedic named Frank Pierce, a man haunted by the people he couldn't save and has a re-occurring vision of one particular young woman whom he sees while driving in his ambulance every time he looks at some of the city's derelicts. Richardson's photography echoes the notion of spirituality as those who believe in the spiritual nature of mankind will connect with the striking camera effects that give way to believing the soul leaves the body at the moment of death.

Cage's performance as the paramedic is brilliant. Sort of an up tempo variation on his performance in 'Leaving Las Vegas'. In that film from 1995 for which Cage won the Best Actor Oscar, he played an alcoholic L.A. writer who was determined to move to Las Vegas and drink himself to death within 30 days. In 'Bringing Out the Dead', Cage looks like he did in the above mentioned film. Pale, stressed out with bad hair, bags under his eyes and an overall structure of a man not in good physical health. Only this time the characterization that Cage has brought to the screen is frenzied rather than sedated. His colleagues in the paramedic business who travel with him from time to time are Larry (John Goodman), Marcus (Ving Rhames) and Tom (Tom Sizemore). All are men of different personalities. Larry is the straight shooter, Marcus envisions himself as sort of an evangelical saviour of those requiring his services and Tom is the foul and nasty individual who hates his job and acts like a jerk every step of the way.

Director Martin Scorsese has made a relentless and lacerating film and this film is vintage Scorsese. It reaps with scenes of hollow urban destitution like 'Mean Streets', and 'Taxi Driver'. When Scorsese is on target with his visuals, he photographs and cuts his films with mesmerizing accuracy. Scorsese keeps 'Bringing Out the Dead' from being just another NYC story of grit and keeps a re-occurring theme elevated for the film's entire running time. Frank Pierce (Cage) is seen at the beginning of the film responding to a call where an elderly man has had a heart attack. Frank befriends his daughter (Patricia Arquette) and keeps checking on her father's progress throughout the course of the film.

The film is also like a big screen version of television's 'ER'. The emergency room at the hospital has all the characters you would expect to find in a big city hospital. There is the stern security guard wearing sunglasses who is determined to keep order, the head nurse who questions people as to why the hospital should help people like drug addicts when they brought these problems on themselves, the head physician who complains that there is a constant need for space and the repeat patient who is strapped to a table on wheels in the hallway, going out of his mind because he can't get his drug fix.

'Bringing Out the Dead' is anything but conventional film making. Believe it or not, from all of the problems its characters face as true examples of human beings, the film has a surprising sense of humour. Writer Paul Schrader, whom I have always disliked in most cases and who made the most depressing film I've ever seen as both writer and director of 1998's 'Affliction', does an excellent job as author of the 'Bringing Out the Dead' screenplay. He constructs the film in a manner that grabs your attention right away from the opening scene and never lets up. However, a lot of the credit for this belongs to Joe Connelly, who wrote the novel on which this film is based. The only thing that prevents this movie from being a five star accomplishment is that it is not an entirely new version of events from either Scorsese, Cage of Schrader. As good as the film is, it is the definition of re-invention. You can see that all involved are doing a variation on past work and consequently, it just misses being a great film but is excellent film making but won't bring Scorsese the long awaited Oscar he deserves and may some day win.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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