Bringing Out the Dead [1999]

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller
Martin Scorsese comes home to the mean streets of New York with Bringing Out the Dead, the hyperkinetic tale of an ambulance driver (Nicolas Cage) on three sleep-deprived, adrenaline-fueled nights amongst the dead and dying of the city. Less a coherent narrative than a mood piece, the film is a welcome return to form for Scorsese, who takes Joe Connelly's memoir and spins it into a slightly surreal, darkly comic tale of one man's redemption. Frank Pierce (Cage) is a man who feels impotent in his job as an EMT--less a lifesaver, he's more of a grief mop as he sardonically puts it, bearing witness to the pain and suffering of others. Haunted by the specter of a young homeless girl, something stirs in Frank when he meets Mary (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of a heart attack victim Frank attends to. In a world where human interaction usually means putting someone on a stretcher, or bantering frenetically with his coworkers, Frank seems headed for certain physical and nervous collapse. Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader (of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), and cinematographer Robert Richardson put a vivid spin on the New York of the early 90s with amazing visual flair and keen, economical storytelling. The film practically pulses with life, and hits the perfect note of ragged exhaustion. Cage, after a recent career slump, turns in an exceptional performance, by turns manic and weary. In fact, this is one of the best casts ever assembled for a Scorsese film: in addition to the quietly effective Arquette, there are great performances by John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore as Cage's ambulance partners, as well as Mary Beth Hurt (as an ER doctor), pop star Marc Anthony (as a drug addict), and especially Cliff Curtis (as a drug dealer who winds up in an unusual scrape). It's not a masterpiece in the vein of Taxi Driver, but Bringing Out the Dead ranks as a stunning Scorsese joyride. --Mark Englehart

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