On a side note, Scorsese doing the voice of the radio dispatcher in Bringing Out The Dead was fantastic.

1999, Martin Scorsese

Bringing Out The Dead is an interesting piece of Martin Scorsese’s overall canon. Along with works like The Age of Innocence and After Hours, it’s a real departure for him in terms of its style, yet in the New York aesthetic it fits firmly into his Mean Streets/Taxi Driver roots. The New York here is very much the “Martin Scorsese New York” that any viewer has come to recognize, yet the script is fused with hallucinatory elements that make it all more alive and chaotic than his usual depictions of the Big Apple. Reuniting with writer Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ for him, the two work to adapt the source novel by Joe Connelly, which is reportedly based heavily on real experiences.

Frank Pierce (played by Nicolas Cage) is a paramedic prowling the Manhattan streets at night with an array of different partners, played coincidentally by three heavier-set actors in the form of John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore. Pierce is on a streak of losing patients, haunted by the ghosts of the lives he has failed to save and drowning his sorrows in alcohol whenever possible. Frank is starting to buckle hard under the pressures of this job and as we meet him, we see right away that his grip on sanity is starting to fade away.

Contrasted by the relatively lighter and more comedic tones of his partners, Pierce is living in a dark place and Scorsese captures that with a despair in the gritty streets of late night New York the way that anyone has come to expect from him. He presents a city that is overflowing with lost souls and broken dreams, matching the out-of-body entities that Frank encounters with a city full of people out of their minds. There’s a chaos to this world that Scorsese presents that is palpable, giving you the sense that anything can happen and over the course of the film there are some truly unpredictable moments.

Bringing Out The Dead is really a film about getting you inside that perspective of Frank, hitting you with his hallucinations and frazzled consciousness to properly cement you within his state of mind. Cage looks appropriately on the edge throughout the picture, appearing as if he hasn’t slept in days and though his more vocally intense scenes always ring false to me this is still one of his finer performances in the long run. Along with his partners, Pierce’s main dynamic in the film is a love interest played by Patricia Arquette, the daughter of a patient Frank picks up early in the picture. This aspect is where the film lost me a bit, as I was never particularly interested in her character or in the significance of her on Pierce and his journey.

Bringing Out The Dead is an effectively staged piece of late night New York chaos told through the perspective of an interesting character, but it’s also riddled with pacing problems as the first hour flies by and the second halts to a snail-like crawl for the remainder of the picture. By the end of it my interest had really waned and I was having trouble hanging on, especially as it ultimately built to what felt like a far too abrupt and unimpressive finale. Still, the aesthetics are really strong, primarily thanks to the sensational editing of Thelma Schoonmaker, and that first hour really is a sizzling work. I just wish it had kept that rhythm going, or at least presented a more compelling conclusion.


Film #252 of The 365 Film Challenge.

First film for tonight.

Went to my work earlier and sold a bunch of movies I had been meaning to get rid of and got store credit with it. These are what I bought with that store credit.