Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

1999 R 121 Minutes

Drama | Thriller

48 hours in the life of a burnt-out paramedic. Once called Father Frank for his efforts to rescue lives, Frank sees the ghosts of those he failed to save around every turn. He has tried everything...

Overall Rating

7 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: From 'Taxi Driver,' to 'After Hours,' Scorsese has made a number of films throughout his career that paint the city as a lifeless, heartless place. But the line between its living and dead has never been blurred quite so much as in his sickening 'Bringing Out the Dead.'

    Its depressing and damming portrait of constant inhumanity is enabled by the fact that Paul Schrader's script (based on Joe Connelly's novel) follows a paramedic Frank (Nic Cage) withered by the constant loss of his New York patients. Over the course of three nights with different crewmates, we see him discussing and being sent from one mad case of overdose and attempted suicide to the next all whilst driving past prostitutes, abusers and addicts. Everyone around him has numbed themselves, or has become convinced of divine interventions, to block out the horrors they've seen.

    Haunted by the ghosts of the people he couldn't help or save, it appears to us that Frank (perhaps along with one patient's relative he meets played by Patricia Arquette) is the only one in the film truly alive and awake to how awful everything around him is. Nic Cage is the way into that, and he brings a vital dose of humanity to proceedings whilst Scorsese expertly zooms his camera in on his tired face and flits from his sunken eyes to the awfulness they're seeing. The New York streets are masterfully portrayed as cluttered and clasutrophic; smoke rises from manholes as if from the hell bubbling just below the surface, whilst neon lights provide the fire. Many moments are executed as horrific hallucinations, with ironic music choices, bright lighting and dynamic camera movements, and the result of all that is ultimately a portrait of a living hell that's painted masterfully by everyone involved.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It has to be said that once the portrait has been painted, the film has nowhere much to go. There's no character arcs particularly; unlike Griffin Dune's Paul in the similar 'After Hours,' Frank begins the film withered and haunted by the horrors, and just becomes increasingly and existentially more so throughout the film until he finds a way out. There's no thematic exploration either; the city is painted as a heartless hell, and no reveals are made beyond that. There's no plot either of course, so whilst it's mesmering and thought-provoking on the surface, it lacks the cinematic qualities of character or theme to keep you truly engaged.

    VERDICT: 'Bringing Out the Dead,' isn't like most films; it's more of a portrait than any kind of exploration. The thing that makes it so special is how remarkably and hauntingly it's painted by Scorsese and Cage.