Bringing Out The Dead

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 1 Minute

Reviewer: Jones
Grade: B+

"Saving a person's life is like falling in love. It's the perfect drug."

These are the words of Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), a New York City paramedic who, with these words, sums up the very essence of his occupation. It is in this essence that Director Martin Scorsese allows the viewer to languish for three days in Frank's life. In doing so he shows us a world many of us would like to think doesn't exist. That is why there are director's like Scorsese in the world. They are here to tell the tough stories. The sort of a story that is analagous to a car wreck: We don't want to look, but we do anyway to satisfy our primal curiosity.

We meet Frank at the outset of the film. He is a man who is at the end of his rope. It has been six months, since he last saved a life. That sad fact has begun to take it's toll on Frank's entire being. Much like Haley Joel Osment, Frank sees dead people. In particular, he sees a teenaged girl that he was unable to save some months ago. He sees her face everywhere he looks. She appears as a prostitute, a pregnant woman, and even a drunken old man. He cannot escape her. It is this image, along with all of the others he has been unable to save, that haunts his every waking moment. This is Frank when we meet him the first night.

It is a Thursday, and he is teamed up with Larry (John Goodman) for the night. Larry aspires to get off the streets and become a Captain. He plans on taking the exams a few months down the road. In the meantime, he keeps himself on track by knowing exactly what he is going to eat that night, long before his shift ever begins. During the night they are called to a home where a cardiac arrest has taken place. While trying to revive the man, Frank meets the man's daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette). Mary soon becomes Frank's link to reality. He knows nothing of life anymore, so he clings to what he can to hang on. They don't exactly form a relationship in the typical sense. Theirs is more of a give and take relationship that revolves around them keeping each other sane than becoming an item so to speak. After this call, Larry and Frank have an assortment of other stops during the night. Including a "regular" and a suicide attempt. To Frank this is normal. He has come to know this as routine.

On the second night he is hooked up with Marcus (Ving Rhames). Marcus chooses to make it through his nights by relying on the world. He also enjoys looking at hookers and flashing his cash at them. There are many more calls on this night. It gets to the point that Frank fears hearing the dispatcher's voice. He has to turn to alcohol to get through this night. It is all he can think of that will keep him sane.

On the third night, Frank is paired with Tom Walls (Tom Sizemore). Tom has gone over the edge. He has taken to beating some of his patients due to his frustration with them. At one point this goes to far and Frank feels compelled to save this patient. It is something of a breakthrough for Frank, because he has finally "saved" someone. It is on this night that Frank finds that feeling of "the perfect drug" that is saving a person's life.

What happens from there is what takes this movie from being an "A" to a "B+" in my book. The ending was a total letdown. I guess I can see what Scorsese was trying to do, but it just doesn't work for me. It's one of those endings where you are left there, when the screen goes black, thinking, "Okay, that's not the end. That couldn't be the end." Unfortunately it is the end. In all fairness to Scorsese, this is a difficult movie to end, but he IS Martin Scorsese. What that means is that the viewer expects a little more. Instead we get a lot less.

On the positive side the performances are all upper tier. Cage is perfect as Frank. There are times when it feels like Cage is about to go into overact mode, but he rides the fine line between overacting and brilliance with great precision. Ving Rhames is his usual delightful self. What is it with him and these religious centered characters? First "Out of Sight" and now "Bringing Out The Dead." Whatever the case may be. He is perfect as Marcus. Even Patricia Arquette does a fine job as Mary. I haven't seen her in much, other than "True Romance," but she does a fine job here. She balances her hatred for her father with her shaky past, while finding some form of innocence in Frank.

"Bringing Out The Dead" is not without a lighter side, but it only creeps up in a few instances such as the scenes with Frank and his Captain. Frank wants to be fired, but his boss won't do it, because he doesn't like to take orders. These are about the only lighter moments in the film. There are others where the humor is more subjective. Otherwise the film presses down upon your being with the weight of the world on your chest.

"Bringing Out The Dead" is a masterfully shot film. It feels as if Scorsese has taken us back to the world he created in "Taxi Driver." The night driving scenes harken back to Travis Bickle's cab making it's way through these very same streets some twenty-plus years earlier.

If you are a fan of Scorsese, or enjoy gritty real life drama, you will not want to miss "Bringing Out The Dead." It is a brutally honest visual feast that is a joy to the eyes, while bringing great sadness to your soul.

Reviewer: Erik
Grade: A

Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead" is another notch in his obviously-impressive belt. It's a character study of Frank Pierce, a paramedic slipping closer and closer to insanity because he hasn't saved a life in six months. The movie strikes a genuine chord as well, documenting three consecutive nights on the job with three different partners who handle stress in their own way. Nights can go from action-packed to boring and monotonous. For every high-stress situation, there's also time to drink coffee, debate about where to eat and look at hookers.

The movie is a surreal experience at times. Consider the first time we're introduced to Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy hospital, when Pierce (Nicolas Cage) and Larry (John Goodman) bring a heart-attack victim in. Chaos ensues. Cops refuse to let certain people in, often threatening to take off their sunglasses and get mean. Nurses lecture druggies on how they'll be back because they're too stupid to stay away from the junk. Doctors pile up patients and tie up others. There's a lot of noise. Fights break out.

A lot of this carries over into the streets. This movie echoes "Taxi Driver" in how the medics peer out of the window and see the dregs of humanity scurrying about, all potential victims who might need assistance. The medics get called into all sorts of weird situations, very few actually requiring the medical skills the medics possess.

Frank, meanwhile, is haunted by images of the girl he lost six months ago. He can't sleep well. He rarely eats. He begs his boss to fire him. Every time the CB radio crackles on, he jumps a bit, scared of what his next assignment could call for.

His three partners are important to the film, each telling Frank of how they handle all the stress. Larry doesn't worry about it, and spends more time wondering if they should order Chinese food or not. Marcus (Ving Rhames, in a great role) gets by with the help of the Lord, and focuses on the good stuff they do, not the bad. And finally, Tom Wolls (Tom Sizemore, also a solid role) drives the streets searching for blood, ready for fun, looking to pull jokes, obviously a tad on the unstable side.

The third night on the job is the most important one. This is where Frank has reached his breaking point, and seeing him together with Wolls makes for some of the best scenes in the movie. The movie crackles with energy at this point.

Of course, there's the love interest, the daughter of the heart-attack victim Frank has saved, at least for the time being. He sees her a lot, and they engage in some idle chatter, some personal stuff, and they grow closer, but not too close, which would seem forced. Frank needs her, but first he must get the redemption he seeks.

This movie is visually-exciting to boot. There are too many scenes to go into, but let it be said that Scorsese can get across in one shot what takes other directors several. His use of music is just as good as ever.

"Bringing Out The Dead" is a wild ride, full of energy and excitement one minute, funny the next and gut-wrenching the next. Martin Scorsese truly is the master. Highly recommended.