A shocking disappointment, Bringing Out the Dead marks Scorsese's first film since Kundun, and his first contemporary movie since Casino. So neither of these took place in New York, but Scorsese is so in love with his hometown, it shows through in all his work. Dead actually begins with the title card, "This film takes place in New York City" (or something close to that), just so there's no confusion.
Confusion about where you are? Impossible. Dead is little more than a series of only-in-NYC horror stories about New York paramedic Frank Pierce (Cage), a burnt-out ambulance driver who's slowly going crazy, and who thinks he sees the spirits of the people whose lives he didn't save. His partners are all nuts (Goodman, Rhames, and Sizemore - who together save this picture from the dustbin), and he finds himself inexplicably attracted to Mary (Arquette), the daughter of a patient whom he inexplicably revives.
In fact, inexplicable is an apt word for most of Bringing Out the Dead. Despite a promising concept (get inside the head of a wacked-out paramedic), it's one blown opportunity after another. (See Pushing Tin for another film with the same problem.) Instead of good writing, the story meanders interminably, relying on a hip soundtrack and cute camera tricks to propel the plot. Frank's obsession with the deceased Rose is baffling, yet it drives most of the action.
Bringing Out the Dead is based on the novel of the same name, and indeed, it feels like the novel has been adapted in full for the screen, with long, dull voice-over monologues, surreal dream sequences, quirky supporting cast members, and go-nowhere subplots. This is not an effective way to make a film. Scorsese obsessives will love it. The rest of the world will not.
Kudos to Ving Rhames as the best of Cage's partners, a character best described as John Shaft meets Jimmy Swaggart. He'll be on my short list for Best Supporting Actor, even if he did only have five minutes of screen time.
Let the healing begin.
Run time: 121 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd October 1999
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, De Fina-Cappa
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 75 Rotten: 30
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenwriter: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nicolas Cage as Frank Pierce, Patricia Arquette as Mary Burke, John Goodman as Larry Verber, Ving Rhames as Marcus, Tom Sizemore as Tom Wolls, Marc Anthony as Noel, Mary Beth Hurt as Constance, Cliff Curtis as Cy Coates, Cynthia Roman as Rose, Sonja Sohn as Kanita, Aida Turturro as Nurse Crupp, Larry Fessenden as Cokehead, Arthur J. Nascarella as Captain Barney, Martin Scorsese as Dispatcher (Voice), Queen Latifah as Dispatcher Love (Voice)
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