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One of the boldest movies of the year. ***1/2 out of ****
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999) ***1/2
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore, Cliff Curtis Director: Martin Scorsese Running time: 120 minutes Rated R (for gritty violent content, language, and drug use)
By Blake French:
Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out The Dead" is one of the only movies I have ever seen that does not remotely glamorize its subject matter. That is something that does not come naturally in the world of film. Movies glamorize almost everything they face matters with; whether it's violence, drugs, sex, or other behaviors. Movies persuade, advertise, and sell incorrect messages to hungry and excepting pedestrians. Not only is "Bringing Out The Dead" an anti-violence, drugs and glamour film, it also manages to deliver its message through one of the most talented actors in Hollywood clearly and understandably. This is one of the year's most unsettling and uncompromising productions, and also one of the year's best.
"Bringing Out the Dead" offers no story in its existence. But there is no actual need for a plot here, due to a strong, precise narrative through-line and focused point of view seen through its central character. He is Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), who narrates the film with a sense of depravity. He and his buddies, Marcus (Ving Rhames), Tom (Tom Sizemore), and Larry (John Goodman), work the evening shift at New York's Hell's Kitchen as Ambulance Drivers for an emergency hospital. They live a life full of stress, sweat, and desperation. Frank often comes to work pleading for his boss to fire him. The opening scene, which properly induces the desperate and gritty lives of the main characters, features Frank and Larry, being called to the home of Mary Burke, whose unhealthy father is having a heart attack. They stabilize him, rush the man to their emergency care facility, and go on with their lives.
Now, where many "lesser" movies would have developed a romantic subplot with the Mary character and Frank, "Bringing Out the Dead" is too focused and skillful to do that. There is affection between the two. But Frank is in such a position in his life that he just isn't prone to fall for a woman. Nor does he give in to any of the many hookers standing on the street blocks tempting him to keep them in business. He is on the verge of an nervous break down, and the film never pretends otherwise.
While for the most part, this movie didn't give into any major distractions or side-subjects, it did have several flawed and unexplained subplots. The story featuring Frank constantly being haunted by the ghost of a young girl he lost some time ago isn't really explained enough. Nor does an unusually bizarre scene later on payoff featuring Frank saving lost souls in pain beneath the streets of New York. And there seems to be an extremely dangerous drug featured in the movie, which strangely appears at the overdoes scenes where Frank is called to--this isn't detailed enough to pay off either. I do realize the purpose of us not knowing about this medical issue; we don't have the knowledge because Frank doesn't. But I still think there may have been a way to inform the audience on the context of this material, without making the hero look stupid. Also, the film is over narrated by Frank, who sometimes describes his interesting past experiences through words, not flashbacks or visions, which would have been much more intriguing.
Scorsese makes no sense of the chaotic, unorganized, unsettling medical experiences patients go through in the emergency room where Frank doctors in. The style he uses to depict the film in is flawless in this justification: the camera angles are mind-warping and fast paced, the atmosphere of the movie is gritty, with blood and vulgarism abound. The characters pace frantically as they travel across one end of the building to the next, not sure to where or whom they are going. The characters also are injected with a deep sense of lifeless scrounge, as they stare and gaze into each other's eyes, only to discover there is nothing in each other. In some aspects, this film is like "Saving Private Ryan": a tantalizing hell.
And Nicolas Cage delivers yet another fascinating performance here. His character is empathized with the entire way through, even if narration is used instead of illusion. He manages to depict his character through the torment and emotional damnation required. He pursues profoundness in scenes where his character realizes happiness in itself. "I fell like I saved someone," mutters Frank to himself. Good job, Frank. You saved yourself.
Brought to you by Paramount Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.
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