Bringing Out The Dead

Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Bringing Out The Dead, shows this gritty side of the city after dark.

As someone that works at odd hours in New York City I can tell you, many parts of the city change when the sun goes down. Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Bringing Out The Dead, shows this gritty side of the city after dark.

Bringing Out The Dead centers on a paramedic, Frank (Nicolas Cage). Frank is burnt out to a point well beyond any normal job. He rides the ambulance at night hoping to save someone. You see, Frank is on a losing streak, most of his patients are dying on him.

The face of Rose, a young girl that dies, haunts him in his arms. In order to save himself Frank needs to save someone, anyone. Unfortunately, the other paramedics that Frank rides with are even more bizarre than the strange ‘children of the night’ they see in their rounds.

There is Larry (John Goodman) a jovial type that wants little more than to put in his hours, do his job and go home. Then there is Marcus, (Ving Rhames) who takes every opportunity to thank Jesus, even before he breaks out a bottle of cheap booze while zipping around in the ambulance. Marcus is responsible for one of the most unusual paramedic scenes ever filmed. While resuscitating a junkie that overdosed Marcus turn the other junkies into a ‘tent revival’ while Frank administers the medication and the ‘dead’ junkie is ‘resurrected’.

The strangest partner inflicted upon Frank in Bringing Out The Dead is Tom (Tom Sizemore) who rides his ‘bus’ hoping for a lot of blood to flow. In the midst of all this Frank becomes involved with the daughter of one of his patients, Mary (Patricia Arquette). Frank shows up at the hospital a lot (of course) where he is always running into Mary, there visiting her father. Soon a relationship develops over smokes in the ambulance bay and Frank turns to trying to ‘save’ her emotionally as his means to save someone and free himself form the ever present image of Rose. This is a strange plot that at times is hard to follow.

The acting in Bringing Out The Dead is often over the top. Cage gives is patented ‘crazy look’ that we haven’t seen in this intense a manner since Face/Off. His is brooding, introspective and over the top all in one film. This is a bit much to as the audience to take. There is little chemistry between Cage and his then wife Patricia Arquette. She seems to drift from scene to scene much like her character drifts through life.

Instead of adding realism to the part Arquette, seems to be filling time until a better film comes along. The support cast has to provide more support than they should have been called upon to give. Rhames and Sizemore are great but they are there and then gone before we can really see their characters develop.

Martin Scorsese is without a doubt one of the most inventive directors around today. From films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas he has consistently demonstrated his ability to push the envelope of film. Here, unfortunately, his game is a bit off. The pacing is poorly done. While inconsistent pacing reflects the life of Frank the slower scenes needed more to hold them together, more to carry the audience on to the next break neck run in the ambulance.

One lighting trick Scporsese using is a white halo effect around the actors. This is fine for the climax of Bringing Out The Dead but he uses it in too many scenes diluting the effect. He also overuses time lapse photography, mono-color washes and other such devices. His scenes in the hospital waiting room were a direct hit of realism that borders on the comedic.

Far removed from the clean ER of TV his ER is a madhouse of confusion , disarray and blood. A much truer look at such places than could be shown on weekly TV. Still, the direction lacks the cutting edge of his previous films. I have usually enjoyed his previous work and hope he gets it together again soon.

The Bringing Out The Dead disc is up to contemporary standards. Excellent anamorphic video transfer, no artifacts especially in the many dark scenes and clear reproduction of color. The sound track for Bringing Out The Dead booms out of all the speakers mostly all the time. You get the feeling you have been strapped to the hood of the ambulance careening through the streets of New York. The sights and sounds fly past you but little content is absorbed.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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