Bringing Out The Dead

Martin Scorsese is such an important director that with each new film comes a certain amount of expectation. That is why his latest film, “Bringing Out The Dead,” is such a major disappointment.

bringingoutthedeadScorsese seems like a natural to direct the big screen version of Joe Connelly’s novel about an eventful weekend in the life of a burnt out New York City paramedic. Scorsese and the “Mean Streets” of New York go hand-in-hand, and yet “Bringing Out The Dead” finds the director at his weakest.

Dull and laborious, “Bringing Out The Dead” is much ado about nothing. It pretends to be another one of those “slice of life” diatribes but comes off as nothing more than two painful hours of watching Nicolas Cage go through one of his trademark benders.

Despite its technical gloss, the film is flat. You immediately admire Robert Richardson’s virtuoso cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker Powell’s razor sharp editing. Elmer Bernstein contributes a musical score that shows more life in a few chords than the entire film does.

All are Scorsese veterans, and serve the master well. You just wish their hard work wasn’t for naught. As it stands, “Bringing Out The Dead” is nothing more than an exercise in futility.

It doesn’t help matters that it is virtually impossible to identify with any of the characters, or even care about them. Paul Schrader, who has penned some of Scorsese’s most challenging films (“Taxi Driver,” “The Last Temptation of Christ”), misses the mark here. You get the point, but you just don’t care.

Characters endlessly go on about their miserable lives, almost to the point where you just wish they would put a gun in their mouths and end it. These passages are supposed to be windows into the character’s souls, yet they are so transparent you see through their self-importance.

Cage, a fine actor who has mined bizarre characters for all they are worth (and even winning an Oscar in the process for “Leaving Las Vegas”), fails to ignite the screen as Frank, the New York paramedic going through a particularly tough weekend. Tired and strung out, Frank finds himself haunted by the ghost of a young girl he failed to save.

Frank seeks redemption through Mary (Patricia Arquette), a young woman who frequents his life after he saves her father’s life. Frank sees another lost soul in Mary, and hopes that they can save each other from themselves. While it’s an interesting conceit to have Cage and Arquette (husband and wife in real life) share screen time, their characters are so thinly drawn and under directed that the union isn’t a happy one.

“Bringing Out The Dead” lacks passion and power, two Scorsese trademarks. Usually his characters are on fire, but here they generate little more than a spark. John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore play drivers who share Cage’s ambulance over the course of the weekend, but except for Rhames, the others are just along for the ride.

Not only is the film poorly executed, it is also implausible. It is hard to take any of this seriously when Scorsese refuses to do so. “Bringing Out The Dead” could have and should have been an excellent companion piece to “Taxi Driver.”

They share the same themes, including main characters who are loners and see the city as a jungle. However, Schrader’s narrative lacks depth and focus. We may not root for Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” yet we understood his motivation. Frank’s obsession with the dead girl is so vague and poorly executed we never believe his torment.

That pretty much sums up “Bringing Out The Dead.” What should have been a wild ride through the streets of New York becomes nothing more than an excuse for Scorsese to get his old gang back together again. You just wish the director had something more substantial to feed them than this tripe.



Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames in a film directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R. 118 Minutes.


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