Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was on in cinemas in the UK and US in November and is now on Netflix internationally. So Tripwire set its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows and senior editor Andrew Colman the mammoth task of watching and reviewing all of his films. Next up is 1999’s forgotten drama Bringing Out The Dead reviewed by Joel Meadows…
Bringing Out The Dead
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore
Paul Schrader’s return to the Scorsese fold after a decade’s hiatus brought a certain manic quality to the director’s latest opus, Bringing Out The Dead. As was his wont after the glacial serenity of Kundun, Scorsese shifted his focus to the mean streets of Manhattan. It was almost a predictable, and one would say necessary, step in his canon.
Nicholas Cage plays ambulance paramedic Frank Pierce, who finds himself teamed up with a series of increasingly bizarre partners during a 48 hour period in New York. We get cameos from the likes of John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore to accompany Pierce on his increasingly Bosch-like journeys into the city night. Pierce’s lifestyle is anything but conducive to mental stability, but he rationalizes continuing with his often gruesome job with the belief that he can communicate with the spirits of the patients he picks up in his vehicle. His life alters when he meets Mary Burke (Arquette), who he encounters when he is called to her parents’ flat to save the life of her father, who is having a heart attack. He sees it as his mission to save Mary from a rather shady life of drugs – an act which could redeem him in turn.
After the sedateness of Kundun, it is great to see Scorsese return to the urban power of his home city. Schrader always tended to bring out the best in the director, with their conflated energy responsible for three earlier pivotal collaborations: Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ.
One could say that Schrader’s main contribution was about generating a harrowing, visceral and naturalistic delineation of the nighttime miasma facing ambulance drivers, which, like earlier entries, does make it a brutal watch. Yet there is a redemptive arc here with Burke acting as a catalyst to save Pierce from falling into the abyss.
For his part, Cage exudes considerable vulnerability here, showcasing a depth which he rarely managed. There is real chemistry between him and Arquette (as it turned out, they got married later on). The presence of great character actors like Goodman, Rhames and Sizemore give Bringing Out The Dead some much needed gravitas and breadth as well.
New York also plays its part as a character in its own right here: production designer Dante Ferretti, a regular creative partner with Scorsese, created a hellish vision for the city to go with Scorsese’s painstakingly constructed soundtrack, consisting of uncompromisingly gritty gems from The Clash and Johnny Thunders. New York is once again a hyperreal nightmare, all mercurial energy, impossible to harness.
Bringing Out The Dead reminds us why Scorsese is such a highly regarded director, and while not quite a stone cold classic like Goodfellas, it has much to recommend it – including one of Cage’s strongest and most committed performances ever.
Here’s the film’s trailer
Here’s the other Month Of Marty reviews so far as well