Well, I’ll be damned. A Scorsese film that isn’t a gangster film, nor does it have Robert De Niro appear anywhere throughout. It’s quite a shock to the system, and that’s exactly what I needed. A jolt of energy that would rekindle at least some passion for the films I’ve been heaving myself through as of late. Rather ironic then that the subject of Bringing Out the Dead, Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), is suffering from burnout. He’s desperate for a break, doing anything in his power to weasel his way into getting fired from a job he just can’t seem to quit.
Scorsese’s direction is far more experimental and visually entertaining than that of his other, prominent works. Bringing Out the Dead relies on the fractured narration from Cage, flashing colours and the dingy streets of Manhattan in all of its brutal detail. A commentary on the opioid epidemic that plagued the streets in America’s war on drugs, whilst at the same time becoming a character study for how frustrating life must be as a hospital paramedic. A man on the edge is portrayed so incredibly well by Cage, his bloodshot eyes and the red rings that surround them flesh out a gaunt face haunted by voices of those he was unable to save. His dedication to the role and the serious amount of effort he puts in is notable for providing us with by far the best performance of his career so far.
This is honestly the darkest I’ve ever seen Scorsese’s films go. Maybe that’s because of how close to reality it is. The grounded nature of his work, swirling around an E.R. whilst we follow the demented frustrations of a paramedic on the edge are presented in such horrible realism that it begins to latch to my mind rather easily. Life and death are thrown into the mix with some visually rewarding results and moments of incredible depth and interest. Romantic subplots with initially fruitless and predictable beginnings spiral into heart-breaking yet charming depictions of individuals looking to deal with the difficulties of their lives.
Blind to the difficulties Pierce is aimlessly wandering through, the various characters that litter his life know nothing of his fragile mental state. Hearing voices, seeing the dead speak to him and taking any drugs or hobbies to take his mind off of such horrors. It’s all wrapped up very well, with the supporting cast becoming impressive pawns in a story of burnout and guilt. John Goodman, Patricia Arquette, Tom Sizemore and a whole host of other recognisable faces parade around in roles that give Cage some great unique material.
By far the best part of the film is Ving Rhames, yet another perfect supporting role under his belt as Marcus, one of the partners Pierce finds himself coupled with as he works through a series of tumultuous graveyard shifts in the heart of a scummy part of town. The scenes Rhames and Cage share with one another signal the high point of the film, an exploration that brings both intensely great chemistry and
Scorsese’s exploration of the dark recesses hidden away within the streets of New York are better explored here than in something such as After Hours. Unflinching detail in the seediest parts of the city, Bringing Out the Dead’s only real issue is the flimsy core at which the structure of the film is built upon. A story of redemption that isn’t all that aware of how similar it is to other stories that begin with their character at rock bottom.