U.S. Release Date: October 22, 1999
Running Time: 121 minutes
MPAA Classification: R (Language, violence, drugs)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, John Goodman, Marc Anthony, Cliff Curtis
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producer: Barbara De Fina, Scott Rudin
Screenplay: Paul Schrader, based upon the novel by Joe Connelly
By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 28, 2011
Nicolas Cage plays Frank Pierce, a burned-out paramedic searching for life and happiness but finding only death and misery, in Martin Scorsese’s eccentric hell-ride, Bringing Out The Dead. Now, Frank is in a bad state. He’s not only a wreck, but a ten-car pileup on a gritty road in a bad part of town. This stems from a teenager’s life that he failed to save (who he often hallucinates walking down the street), and ever since, he hasn’t been able to save anybody.
At the beginning of the film, Frank and his partner Larry (John Goodman) are racing to the scene of a heart-attack victim. When they get there, there is nothing they can do. The man is dead. But this is nothing new to Frank. He explains to us in a brief voice-over, “I was a grief mop.” See, in his line of work, his job isn’t always about saving lives, but rather trying to bring encouragement. The night moves on into day. Frank strikes up a small relationship with Mary (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of the heart-attack victim. Both have troubled pasts and find solace in each other.
Like many other Scorsese films, Bringing Out The Dead follows no tangible storyline. We focus entirely on Frank, the deplorable places that his job brings him, and the deteriorating effect it has on his mind and body.
While there are a lot of dramatic moments, there are some pretty funny ones, too. This isn’t humor delivered by dialogue, but by sheer absurdity. Scorsese incorporates a lot of Frank’s mental collapse into how the film looks, with lights flashing wildly, demonic-looking characters, and gritty cinematography. We really get that “hellish” feel.
Scorsese also uses a lot of religious imagery as well. The hospital, Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy (aptly nicknamed “Perpetual Misery”), blatantly resembles purgatory while one could relate the Oasis, a place to get high and escape from the city, to Heaven. There’s a even a scene involving a “miracle” where a virgin gives birth. All of this contributes to making Bringing Out The Dead a rare moving-going experience. It’s decidedly the most offbeat film from Scorsese, and just so happens to be one of his finest.
Nicolas Cage can always manage to pack such raw energy into his characters. He brings an intensity like no another to Frank, who isn’t necessarily “likable” but totally relatable. We can relate to Frank, even if we’re likely never to encounter or endure as much pain as he has. The brief bits of narration he is given really give him depth. Sure, the film does sag in parts and its character are stretched to the absolute extremes of the scale, and it is an acquired taste, but that’s all what makes it so unique. And if you’re a Scorsese fan (and who isn’t?), then this is a must-see.