Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’m thinking about focusing my returning week with a look at my favorite director of all time: Martin Scorsese. One of the things Dave and I have most in common and what helped spark our friendship is love for the work of the furry eye-browed one himself. My favorite movie of all time is Taxi Driver. Dave’s is Goodfellas. I think Taxi Driver and Goodfellas are the two essential films to view when your starting with Scorsese. Then I suggest people move on to the likes of Raging BullMean Streets and The King of Comedy. To me there is no such thing as lesser Scorsese. I believe everyone of his films is a masterpiece in its own right. Even when audiences and critics dismiss films like New York, New York and Kundun as disasters, I say they are the best disasters one could hope to make.

Let us start with an over-looked and very under-appreciated Scorsese film, the 1999 drama Bringing Out The Dead. First off, people like to write this movie off simply because it stars Nicolas Cage. Like his decade long run of midnight madness B-movies and manic performances have somehow made the common man completely unaware of his great roles in AdaptationRaising Arizona or Leaving Las Vegas. Cage is superb in this movie. True he is often overshadowed by the supporting performances in the film but its only because the supporting players are such a powerful ensemble.

The film chronicles 48 hours in the life of a paramedic struggling to survive the hellish nightmare that is the 3rd shift of a New York City first responder. He hasn’t saved anybody in months and is haunted by the ghosts of those he has failed. He winds up seeking redemption and hopes to save the ailing father of a young junkie (played by Patricia Arquette).

Bringing Out The Dead is a great companion piece to Taxi Driver. Reteaming with Paul Schrader, Scorsese is given a chance to revisit the underbelly of New York’s streets through an equally troubled anti-hero’s eyes. Robert Richardson’s photograpy creates a thrilling new take on the locations Scorsese famously strolled 20 years prior and the soundtrack boasts every song from The Rolling Stones and The Clash to REM and UB40.

People often overlook just how fun this movie is. Like Taxi Driver, despite all the serious subject matter on display in the film the movie also has some of the funniest characters and one-liners imaginable. In fact, what appeals to me the most about the film and what causes me to revisit it constantly is how much I adore the stories without Nicolas Cage and Patricia Arquette. To me its a hang out movie. I watch the film in order to hang out with John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore’s characters. To see their varying approaches to their work. Ving Rhames sees it as morally fullfilling, approaching situations like clergy rather than medical technicians. (What’s better than the “I.B. Bangin” scene!). John Goodman’s character has the “let’s just get this over with” kinda attitude, especially when chauffering around a notoriously reeking homeless man nicknamed Mr. Oh. And Tom Sizemore is just bat-shit as ever playing a drug abusing hot headed paramedic who specializes in roughing up and frightening drug addicts.

In a year that possesses some of the greatest films of all time I can’t understand why this Scorsese great is so rarely seen. Great performances abound from Cage and Arquette to Marc Anthony and Cliff Curtis. Wonderful quick cutting and editing. Brillant cinematography and a grand color pallette. A beautiful homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan complete with iconic Gershwin score. What more could any film fan ask for?

-John

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