Bringing Out the Dead

Bringing Out the Dead [1999]

Director: Martin Scorsese
Actor: Nicolas CagePatricia ArquetteJohn GoodmanTom SizemoreMarc Anthony

This movie tells the story of Frank (Cage), a son of a nurse and a bus driver who, naturally, became a medic on a rotating, two-man ambulance team in Manhattan, working the graveyard shift. He’s exhausted and bordering on a full blown burnout and he keeps seeing things; he sees the ghosts of those he wasn’t able to save, and hears the pleas of the comatosed and the brain-dead. He tries as best he can to get fired, yet every night he is partnered up with others, and goes out into the urban nightmare of New York to try and save people. He hasn’t saved anyone in months, a fact which fuels his depression and his increasingly reckless behaviour. He’s partnered up with; Larry (Goodman), a fat man who seems only interested in food and setting up his own ambulance dispatch, Marcus (Rhames), a religious zealot who keeps hitting on the dispatch lady, despite her obvious distaste for him, and Tom (Sizemore), an aggressive macho who works the graveyard shift voluntarily because he gets off on the excitement.

One night, Frank and Larry are called in to help an elderly man who’s suffered a heart-attack. He’s the father of Mary (Arquette), an ex-junkie who is trying to get her life in order. They manage to save the man, which keeps him comatosed and unresponsive. Frank is drawn to Mary for reasons he can’t quite explain, just like he’s drawn to the job even though he wishes he could quit. He’s looking for salvation, forgiveness and rest, which he seems to find in the strange relationship he develops with Mary. He also seems to be capable of endless patience and forgiveness, as is shown in his relationship with Noel (Anthony), a mentally ill hoodlum who is perpetually thirsty, which drives him to cause trouble.

A very dark movie from Martin Scorcese, whose editing kind of reminded me of Tony Scott’s editing lately, very fast and frantic. While the acting of Cage, Arquette, Goodman and Rhames isn’t stellar, Sizemore and Anthony seem to shine. The midnight backdrop of Manhattan does a tremendous effort to add atmosphere to the film, and it succeeds in spades. It shows you the side of New York City that few ever get to see, even after living there for years on end, and it’s an ugly one, much like in The Brave One. It doesn’t glamourise anything; neither the job, the medical field, the nightlife, the city, nor the people. Many current day films are advertising vehicles, meant for product placement and putting asses in seats. That doesn’t go for this film, which I’m sure wasn’t a big box office draw, and might even have only a very small cult following. It’s depressing, ugly and sad, which is exactly why I like it.

The film remains open ended, and that might frustrate some but it adds to the overall feeling of hopelessness. You don’t know if things will improve, nor will you ever know. There’s also no real resolve on where Mary and Frank’s relationship is heading. During the film they develop an affection for one another, but it never graduates to a love affair, because finding love in Frank’s situation, in the environment he moves in, is not realistic. It makes the affection they share for one another more real and believable, and also doesn’t shed any light of hope on the Frank’s future.

Tip; if you watch this film, do it late at night, preferably in a sleep-deprived haze, the film becomes magical that way.

Leave a Reply