Bringing out the Dead 6/10
Bringing out the Dead (R) 1999
Reviewer’s Tilt (9)
Special DVD Features worth a look-Making of Featurette
"You have to keep the body going until the brain and the heart recover enough to go on their own." Ambulance driver Frank Pierce (Nicholas Cage) repeats this mantra in his head as he patrols the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Frank refuses, however, to incorporate this truism into the context of his own tortured existence. A junkie of sorts, Frank gets high on saving lives and doing good deeds. Things have dried up cold turkey for Frank in the last few weeks, with life after life slipping through his gifted fingers. Ghosts of the recently deceased haunt Frank, while his partners distract themselves with food, violence and the love of the Lord.
Whereas his partners do everything in their power to avoid staring into the abyss, Frank opts for a long hard look. What he sees is not an answer, but helpless babies, denied the joy of life, and tortured souls, denied the succor of death. In a nod to Joseph Heller, the more Frank tries to get fired, the more his boss realizes Frank’s compassion and refuses to fire him. “I’ll fire you tomorrow . . . I promise” his boss assures him. Director Martin Scorsese collaborated on this film with screenwriter Paul Schrader, as he did on the classics “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” The end result, however, falls far short of these two prior works. There is a lot to like in Bringing Out the Dead: great music, dark comedy, frenetic editing and a touching tale.
Indeed, Ving Rhames, Mary Beth Hurt, Tom Sizemore, and John Goodman all deliver terrific supporting performances, adding humor and a humanity to the story. Unfortunately, there is no common thread linking these wonderful elements and performances together. Probably the biggest disappointment in this film is Patricia Arquette. She plays a reformed junkie, watching her father revived daily from the death he so desperately desires. Arquette plods through the film, failing to generate either sympathy for her character, or chemistry with Cage. In addition to Arquette’s stoic performance, there are several Scorsesesqe elements and plot devices that simply do not deliver in the context of this film. Kudos to Scorsese for dancing on the edge, but just because something is clever, does not mean that it merits the final cut. Despite these distractions, the underlying premise of the movie is still uplifting and heartfelt. Whether you are a middle class old white man or an impoverished young mother of color, your life is what you make of it. We are the ones who choose approval over guilt, satisfaction over angst, and happiness over grief. This film shows us why the manner in which we embrace life, is critically more important than the manner in which life embraces us.
Format: Color, Widescreen anamorphic, Closed captioned.
Sound: (DTS 5.1 Surround), (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
Extras: Making of featurette, trailer.