In 1999, Nicolas Cage starred in Bringing Out the Dead, directed by Martin Scorsese. A neo-noir thriller in its own right, this is truly the work of a master filmmaker. Much like in his recent directing effort, The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese manages to bring the audience into the mind of the film’s main character, Frank Pierce – a tired, strung out paramedic on the brink of self-implosion. Within the first 40 minutes of the film, the audience must accept the fact that nothing from start to finish is going to be wholly normal when it comes to watching this movie. Questions begin to arise such as, is he really awake? Is he a drug addict? Is this all a dream? I don’t think there is a hidden meaning in the film, but based simply on its odd nature one can’t be blamed when wondering these things from time to time.
A definite highlight to this flick is Scorsese’s return to his beloved roots, i.e. New York, his favorite place to film. And while mentioning his beginnings, this is a return collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader who scribed previous Marty-directed films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, among others. When I learned this was a Paul Schrader screenplay I then watched the film and saw and heard so much that reminded me of Taxi Driver, specifically the anti-hero of sorts who both loves the city he lives in but hates the scum that inhabits it. It brings you into this kind of Alice in Wonderland world where everything is off, even if just a little bit. Nothing seems quite the way it should be.
Things that can’t be seen are, and people that should help, don’t. The sun is never really an element in the story as the main character works the late shift, and since nearly every moment is him on the job, it is always dark. The city is always covered in shadow and mystery and fear and it makes for a very macabre setting. Add elements of a person at their weakest, most tired and fed up state, and whose crutch is alcohol and caffeine and you have the makings of a much skewed picture. In the hands of Scorsese, this became something unforgettable and it’s really something to watch. I also can’t fail to mention Cage’s unusually contained performance with a side of crazy added in for good measure. He really helped make this something greater.
Frank Pierce (Cage) is a five year veteran EMS Paramedic who always works the late shift. The things he has seen and experienced have chiseled him into the man he is today, worn out and losing it quickly and not very quietly. Every new day, every new hour, he seems to look more haggard than the last, and in a profession that demands focus Frank is in for some serious hard moments. He drowns his nightmares in alcohol and denial and with each sip and each repressed thought further down the rabbit hole he goes. He begins talking of ghostly visits that never actually happened, at least outside of his delusional mind. Reality seems to slip farther away with every new 911 call and yet somehow, he never fails to try to save a life. They don’t always make it and this has had its toll on Frank, but for every ten that die there is the one miraculous moment that a life is saved and he truly feels untouchable.
It’s these moments that force him to continue on despite everything else screaming for him to walk, run away. In his profession and specific time slot, outside connection is usually interrupted by a breathing tube or defibrillator. So when the opportunity presents itself in Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette) he jumps, metaphorically speaking. She is in the midst of a probable family loss and it is through their newly shared experience of hospitals and talk of death that a bond forms. In a hall of darkness that is Frank’s world, she may just be the light to lead him out. A solution that isn’t booze, he must explore this more.
If you have never seen this film and are a Scorsese fan, then definitely check this out. I wouldn’t consider it a masterpiece with the likes of GoodFellas and The Departed, but even when he’s not at his best, he still makes most look like amateurs. It has the fast editing and bizarre characters one might expect in a Martin Scorsese picture and that is more than fine by me. This is an excellent film that if missed or passed on should certainly get another look.
Rated R For: gritty violent content, drug use and language
Run Time: 121 minutes
After Credits Scene: None
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 4/ Directing: 4.5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 4 Nerdskulls