Bringing Out The Dead
Rating -

Drama (US); 1999; Rated R; 120 Minutes

Nicolas Cage: Frank Pierce
Patricia Arquette: Mary Burke
John Goodman: Larry
Ving Rhames: Marcus
Tom Sizemore: Tom Walls
Marc Anthony: Noel
Mary Beth Hurt: Nurse Constance

Produced by Barbara De Fina, Jeff Levine, Bruce S. Pustin, Joseph P. Reidy, Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder, Eric Steel; Directed by Martin Scorsese; Screenwritten by Paul Schrader; Based on the novel by Joe Connelly

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Written by DAVID KEYES

In a world of limitless movie imaginations, there are bad directors, good directors, and Martin Scorcese. What makes this man stand out from the others? Why is he in a class all his own? Perhaps because his technique is rarely undertaken. Here is a man who digs beneath the surface of a plot, and pumps intense life into the most deeply hidden of details. Most directors would sit at a frontal image, and savor all of the easily-seen elements. Put Scorcese in a vast metropolis, and he'd prefer reaching into the back alleys.

"Bringing Out The Dead," Scorcese's newest, re-collaborates he and writer Paul Schrader, who both worked together on the cornerstone hit "Taxi Driver." Anyone who has had the time to explore my tastes might already be able to tell you that I am not, in any way shape or form, a fan of "Taxi Driver." But ultimately, where that movie fails, "Bringing Out The Dead" succeeds. This isn't a movie about uncompromising psychological plights, but one about a man seeking hope, sense, and renewal. It is a tale that has much to say, and one that speaks with a clear and distinctive voice.

The voice belongs to Nicholas Cage. He plays an EMS paramedic named Frank Pierce, a man on the verge of mental collapse. Haunted by images of an 18-year-old girl who died in his care, Frank, along with three other paramedics in shifts, scours the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen, answering distress calls on his dispatcher radio. A typical paramedic might leap at the chance of saving someone's life. Frank's journey lacks every urge and anticipation, and with good reason--how would you feel, after all, if you hadn't saved a life in months when that is what your career calls for?

Like all things, there is hope. Frank finds his from a woman named Mary (Patricia Arquette, who is Cage's real life wife), a former junkie whose father, a fan of Sinatra music, goes in and out of limbo in one of the film's most spectacular scenes. We hear the music in the background, and observe with concerned eyes as his body goes into cardiac arrest and is suddenly revived. Because Frank feels hopeless at this point, the revival, in a way, rekindles some faith. A relationship with this victim's daughter helps to motivate his need for redemption.

The film is told in three nights, each set up with a different partner for Frank. The first is played by John Goodman, and is a man who finds distance from those around him by thinking about food. Ving Rhames plays the second, a religiously dependent man who thinks that saving lives is like living miracles. The third, played by Tom Sizemore, is a bloodthirsty lunatic, who cannot wait for distress calls, just so he can witness the carnage before his eyes. Each embodies certain qualities that could easily eliminate their selection of a career. The only reason they do what they do, perhaps, is because nothing else in the world will accept them. Much of the plot's focus on these individuals feels trance-like, as if they are wandering in dreamscapes occupied by images of either fear or satisfaction.

Scorcese seldom lets us down here; he pushes the camera into the faces of his stars, hoping to snatch their genuine reactions during important plot twists. When his lens is directed on Cage, we see a sense of false hope and lingering sanity clouding his eyes (at first). After his encounter with the beautiful Mary, we feel a beam of light has reopened them. The director is confident in his treatment, and like most of his efforts, his strength lies in the story's interior.

Are there flaws? Oh, just a few. As a narrative, with voice-overs done by Cage himself, there are abrupt diversions from the film's other important characters, like the three paramedics who shsare shifts. Potentially interesting personalities, like one played by Latin sensation Marc Anthony, do not get the exploration they deserve. And the relationship between Mary and Frank, however important, feels underwritten. We can't always be sure whether this is love or hope bringing them together.

But all the same, it is difficult to ignore the message explored in "Bringing Out The Dead." Scorcese is a man with vision, whose films like "Raging Bull" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" have pushed him onto the Hollywood "A"-list. With "Taxi Driver," this film's distant cousin, he became disoriented in his own foresight. This time, he delivers all the goods.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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