Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scorsese Film #10 - Bringing Out the Dead

Film #10 of 14 - Bringing Out the Dead

Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is a paramedic working the overnight shift in New York City, and it's safe to say that he's not a fan of his career choice. A recovering alcoholic who is unable to sleep because he is constantly haunted by the ghosts of patients he has lost, he practically begs his boss to fire him on a nightly basis. During one night's work, he and his partner Larry (John Goodman) answer a call to help a man who suffered a heart attack, and though he was pronounced dead, Frank manages to bring him back, though barely, because he has to be kept alive by machines and routine shocks from a defibrillator. That night, Frank also meets the man's estranged daughter Mary (Patricia Arquette) a former drug addict who is struggling with the way she left her relationship with her father. The two strike up an unusual friendship, but Frank's increasingly self-destructive behavior due to his own inner demons threaten to make him become completely unhinged.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Bringing Out the Dead actually has a few similarities to one of his earlier pictures, the sublime Taxi Driver (1976). Among the similarities: both were written by Paul Schrader, take place mainly at night on the streets of NYC and feature a voice over narration by the main character. Unfortunately, other than a few other factors, the similarities end there, because unlike Taxi Driver, Bringing Out the Dead doesn't have a truly engaging and gripping storyline. The premise of the film is interesting, but unless you look at the film as more of a study of Frank's character, there isn't much more that you're going to get out of the film. Because I wasn't engaged in the film doesn't mean that I can't appreciate it as a whole, however.

Characters dominate Bringing Out the Dead, with a mostly superb cast, including Tom Sizemore (what a wasted talent he became) and Ving Rhames as a fellow paramedic who likes to mess with some of his patients and teach them a lesson "with the power of the holy spirit." I also chuckled every time I heard the fast-talking, foul-mouthed male dispatcher over the ambulance radio, because it was the voice of Martin Scorsese himself. I wish I could say the same for Patricia Arquette, but I've just never understood her appeal; she's so mediocre in everything that I've seen her in and this film was no exception. Nicolas Cage's performance was particularly outstanding, and he really moved the film along because he was so interesting. Looking worse than any of his patients, he looks like a zombie and cowers throughout most of the film, propelled by momentum, until he gets sudden bursts of activity where he becomes almost terrifying. His intensely expressive face and ability to switch from point A to point G with the snap of a finger is a reminder that at one point, he really did some great work and that the talent is there; we just need to hope he does better projects in the future so that his relevance is restored.

The production of Bringing Out the Dead is outstanding. Gritty, yet smooth, the somewhat grimy streets are slick and shiny with rain (though we don't see the rain fall) and teeming with action, and the neon lights are colorful and bright. Employing several flashy camera techniques, including quick cuts, and featuring an outstanding a scene with Frank and Mary that seemed to be acted in and then filmed in reverse, Bringing Out the Dead was visually thrilling. I just wish that the story was up to par with the rest of the film because there were many times I was completely bored and just fell back on looking at everything else about the film, but even a film nerd like me needs to have a vaguely interesting story to follow. I'm conflicted, because every time I decide that the movie just wasn't that good, it's mostly because of the story, and I can't discount the masterful direction, so while definitely not one of his best films, Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead is worth watching.

3 out of 5 stars

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