BRINGING OUT THE DEAD
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Nicholas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman,
Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: 2 Trailers, Cast and Crew Interviews
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 9, 2000
For Bringing Out the Dead, director
Martin Scorsese and long-time collaborator screenwriter Paul Schrader returned to the Mean
Streets of New York to weave a chaotic horror show of a movie by spending three days in
the life of a paramedic on the graveyard shift. The
results are striking, surreal, noisy, and often over the top, but its a cacophonic
mix that serves the story line well.
Nicholas Cage, in one of his most memorable performances, plays
Frank, a man who, by nature of his job, is damned to be directed away from the bright
lights and joy of the city and straight into the darkest, most harrowing events that often
take place in the shadows and under the surface. His
job is to save lives, but hes been in a bleak spell of about six months where he
hasnt saved anybody, and instead of healing the dying, he is forced into trying to
heal the living left behind. He is tormented
especially by two failures (he considers)
a woman he couldnt save, and a man he
couldnt let go.
He spends three nights in the dark side of the city, with three
different partners, Larry (Goodman), who manages to still think about his next meal
despite the carnage he witnesses, Marcus (Rhames), a joyful born again believer who calls
on the power of the Lord (sort of) to resurrect an overdosing rock musician, and Tom
well, is just plain nuts. In
other words, Frank is going further and further down the rabbit hole each night he takes
to the streets.
Cage plays Frank like an almost ghost of a man. His face is pale, his eyes are sunken from lack of
sleep, he is often an unkempt mess. In a
scene thats as funny as it is touching, he argues with his dispatcher: You SWORE youd fire me if I came in
late one more time! But the paramedics
are understaffed as it is. Frank will have to
be fired some other time.
There is no real plot. The
structure of the film reflects the life of Frank and his job. Theres no beginning and no end, just one
erratic and surreal display of horror after another.
Scorsese, as usual, finds ways to peel back the covers of New York City and expose
its dark underbelly for all its worth. Here,
he often uses the ambulance on screen to assault the senses. Its loud, fast, with blinding flashing
every time it rockets off into the night, we fear it might be bringing poor
Frank closer and closer to the edge.
You cant help but ponder, and admire from a distance, these
noble souls whose lives seem to be nothing more than one crisis after another. They try to save lives, but the fact is, they
arent usually called to a scene unless the situation is already critical, making
virtually every stop an uphill fight. Frank
used to think his job was to save lives. Now
Im a grief mop, he muses soberly.
One of the main strengths of the film is in the performances. In addition to Cage, Goodman, Rhames and Sizemore
are all terrific in their supporting roles, as is Patricia Arquette, the daughter of the
man Frank rescues at the beginning of the movie, but questions whether or not keeping the
man alive so artificially was actually a good thing.
And for added fun, listen for the voices of Scorsese and Queen Latifah on the
But the real star of the film is the direction. Martin Scorsese loves movies, and the joy he takes
in making films always shows through, even in a surreal, bleak picture such as this one. His style of lighting, camera movement, and use of
audio always come together to take a scene where it most needs to go, from the most quiet
and relaxed settings to the sudden loud, furiously fast, out of control sequences.
And like most Scorsese films, the true subject is the search for
redemption. Can it be found, and is there
such a thing? Frank, like most of his
characters, may never know, but the true revelation is in the quest itself, not in the
ultimate success or failure.
Paramount offers another outstanding anamorphic transfer to their
library of DVD titles here. This is a film
with a wide variety of visuals, from lights to darks, with harsh, cut through lighting in
certain scenes to an almost Van Gogh style swallowing of lights by darkness in other. Multi colored lights cut through various scenes. All of this is rendered beautifully on this disc,
with no noticeable grain or compression, and a surprising ability to keep objects sharply
realized from scene to scene. The print is
clean and free from nicks and scratches. For
a film thats a visual powerhouse of energetic images, you cant ask for better
than whats offered here.
The Dolby 5.1 mix is quite good, with wide dynamic range and
selective use of the .1 speaker, but not as much use of the surrounds as I would have
hoped. When I saw this movie in the theatre,
there was a sound problem, so I cant compare, but I would have imagined a broader
range of rear signals than are inherent here. Which
doesnt keep this from being a good listen, I must add: the front range of audio is very wide and clear,
with an array of chaotic sounds that always seem well rendered and in control, and no
problems with dialogue clarity.
The disc contains two trailers and a short cast and crew interview
Bringing Out the Dead is a fitting entry into an impressive body of work by one of Americas most prolific and important filmmakers. Its not one that will appeal to every taste, but I would recommend it for those who appreciate bold, adventurous filmmaking and courageous acting. On this quality DVD, you can hardly miss.