Bringing out the Dead Review
By Joe Lozito
Wrecks and the City
Nicolas Cage, recently wasted in action thrillers such as "Con Air" and "8MM", steps back into his acting shoes - at least partially - in the Martin Scorsese film "Bringing out the Dead". Mr. Cage plays Frank, a beleaguered paramedic who is plagued by visions of the patients he has lost. Frank feels as though he is losing his touch and through a series of somewhat intrusive voice-overs, he says that he feels as though he is unable to save lives anymore. On one of his nightly calls, Frank treats the father of Mary, played by Mr. Cage's real-life wife Patricia Arquette. Ms. Arquette has never been the most engaging actress and she seems miscast here as a junkie with family issues. Her scenes with Mr. Cage tend to slow down a film which, otherwise, has a propulsive energy.
The film takes place over the course of three nights, during which Frank has three partners with wildly different personalities. The standout among them, and in fact the standout performance in the film, is Ving Rhames who possesses such energy and vitality that, for a moment, it seems as though Frank may actually relax. Of course, that wouldn't make for much of a movie, and Frank moves on to his next partner in the manic Major Tom (Tom Sizemore). These ambulance scenes are the film's most over-the-top and they contain some of Mr. Scorsese's finest visuals.
Like one of his early films, "After Hours", this film takes place almost entirely at night. And since this is "Martin Scorsese's New York", the nights are long and filled with interesting little vignettes. There is a visit to a drug den and a homeless shelter; there are wise-cracking prostitutes and seen-it-all policemen; there is also a very funny series of exchanges between Frank and his boss who, much to Frank's chagrin, keeps reneging on his promise to fire him. Better still, the film is written by Paul Schrader("Affliction") who teamed up with Mr. Scorsese on another, better loner-in-New-York/redemption epic: "Taxi Driver".
Martin Scorsese is a wonderful filmmaker. And he loves New York. He is at his best, though, when he has an interesting story to tell. The life of a paramedic has not been explored outside of tepid television soap operas, and when the film confines itself to this arena it is brutally engaging. Mr. Cage plays exhausted distress like no one else. His sunken eyes and furrowed brow make him instantly sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. The love story, however, is thin and convenient, and the redemption/salvation plot has been done before and better - oddly, by Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Schrader themselves.