by Greg Muskewitz
It's a little difficult to summarize the plot-outline of "Bringing Out the Dead," because that was one of the things the film didn't have a definitive feel for. Martin Scorsese's latest opus was based on the novel by Joe Connelly, and the script was by Paul Schrader, a past collaborator with Scorsese ("The Last Temptation of Christ," "Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver"). But throughout the film, it retains a very novelized feeling, especially when it came to Nicolas Cage's narration. Words and articulation were forced, fake, and obviously scripted, and audiences seem to be too far ahead of this one.Nicolas Cage plays Frank Pierce, an EMS paramedic roaring around the streets of NYC. It's been a while since he's saved anyone, and it's starting to take a toll on him. He's losing sleep, finding no time for a life, and is haunted by the ghost of a young teen he was unable to save. "Bringing Out the Dead" takes place over three days of Frank's life, during which he starts to fall in love with Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of a coronary attack victim he brought in, and is coupled with some mighty weird and oddball-ish medics (Ving Rhames, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore) as he flies through each night.
"Mr. Scorsese, may I suggest a Valium?"
There was some concept to the film, but it felt more as if the random days really had nothing to say, and were just extracted chapters. The characters were very interesting to watch -- they're what make the film worthwhile -- and the actors were very good. Nicholas Cage proves himself as usual, and is very convincing, and Arquette (his off-screen wife) was an undeniably strong screen presence (though her other films this year left less to be desired). Other stand-outs were Ving Rhames (no surprise), Goodman, and Latino singer Marc Anthony. Aside from some very well-scripted humor, the actors are what made the film!
Scorsese knows what he's doing, but in this case he was stuck with a dead-end script (with dead-end ideas and Red Herrings, like the Red Death drug which served no purpose). His last film, "Kundun," was much better because it was much more of a personal film. In "Bringing Out the Dead," he succumbs to all the 90s stylized shots -- with the quick edits, shaky cam, time condensed shots, etc. When these techniques were first being used, they appeared to be very cool and "in," but now, with every other film using it, it has become annoying and only detracts from the film.While watching Scorsese go through all the same motions, I wanted to feed him a valium or take away his defibrilators! It was unnecessary to go MTV on us, but for better or worse, the film does work for its characters and actors.
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originally posted: 11/01/99 14:44:23