Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

A lesser but somewhat stylishly-crafted effort by Scorsese, featuring Nicolas Cage as a burnt-out paramedic who works the graveyard shift and is haunted by the victims he couldn’t save.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,361

Dir. Martin Scorsese
1999 | USA | Drama | 121 mins | 2.39:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for gritty violent content, drug use and language

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore
Plot: Haunted by the patients he failed to save, a monumentally burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three increasingly turbulent nights.
Distributor: Disney

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Paramedics; Mental Exhaustion; Salvation
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Disney+
Spoilers: No

In the tradition of Taxi Driver (1976) and Light Sleeper (1992), both written by Paul Schrader, Bringing Out the Dead is another of his “sleepless nights in New York”-type films featuring a protagonist who needs some kind of personal salvation. 

Working with Martin Scorsese again, Schrader adapted Joe Connelly’s novel which centres on a paramedic who works the graveyard shift and is on the brink of a mental breakdown. 

Led by the hope—and thrill—of saving lives, Frank Pierce perseveres but finds himself disillusioned, haunted by the victims he couldn’t save. 

Played by Nicolas Cage, Frank isn’t remarkably interesting as a character, but Cage imbues in him a wild energy and desire to make things right no matter how fatigued he is. 

Patricia Arquette has a supporting role as an acquaintance whose father Frank helped ferry to the local hospital after a major cardiac arrest. 

“Saving someone’s life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world. For days, sometimes weeks afterwards, you walk the streets, making infinite whatever you see.”

Bringing Out the Dead is a lesser effort by Scorsese, and could be the weakest of his ‘90s phase, though he would turn things around with a stellar 2000s decade, starting with Gangs of New York (2002). 

Still, Bringing Out the Dead is somewhat stylishly-crafted, particularly the hyperactive camera and editing on display in the numerous scenes featuring Frank’s ambulance racing against time on the endless streets. 

Thematically, if you are familiar with Schrader and Scorsese, it is similar to what they have done before, perhaps now in a different field of work. 

In that sense, Bringing Out the Dead isn’t interesting enough to me, though Scorsese does try to weave in some visual elements of ‘horror’ which seem odd enough to see in a film of his.

Grade: B-



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