Archive for the ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ Category

17 – Bringing Out the Dead

May 13, 2000

Paul Schrader and Martin Scorcese have been down this road before, haven’t they? When the screenwriter and the director collaborated on 1976’s Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro, they examined the underbelly of the city as seen through the eyes of a psychotic cabbie. With Bringing Out the Dead, they examine the underbelly of the city as seen through the eyes of a slowly unraveling paramedic. But don’t worry folks, it’s not the same movie at all!

Nicholas Cage, who by now has “How to Play a Burned-Out Character” soldered onto his brain, plays Frank Pierce, an EMS who is haunted by visions of people he couldn’t save. Cage’s facial expressions careen wildly from wide-eyed, goofy grins to mopey, woe-is-me blank stares. Frank Cage isn’t a character as much as he’s an amalgam of all that’s wrong and right about the seamy side of every city in the world. He’s a zombie driving the streets at night, waiting for tragedy. And he’s been able to push away all of the reality and concentrate on just the saving of lives. Until now, anyway – one girl with whom Frank grew up in the neighborhood slowly degenerated into a drug user/addict, and Frank always seems to feel some sort of remorse for her death. Why her, and no one else, is a mystery.

Among the characters (not people, characters) that Frank encounters during a 48-hour period are Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette), whose father Frank brought into the hospital. Mary, an emotional shell much like Frank, is clearly in the movie only to serve as a romantic foil to Frank. Perhaps not too coincidentally, Mary seems to run into Frank an awful lot, so it’s no real shock to find out Frank has eyes for her. And that’s all well and good, because a movie that wallows so much in its own self-perpetuated malestrom of depravity needs a female presence to kind of balance it all out, as if one extra shot of estrogen will offset the testosterone-laden atmosphere. Sadly, it does not. Mary doesn’t rise above the decadence and seediness of the city; she is merely immersed by it. Even worse than the one-dimensional characterization, however, is the flat delivery by Arquette. No master thespian she, Arquette speaks each line in such a dull monotone that you want to slap her just to get her out of the rut she’s in. That kind of delivery makes sense when you first meet Mary, because she’s in shock from her dad going into cardiac arrest. But there’s no need for her to keep that up.

So what exactly is the point of this movie? That the city can be a nasty, dangerous place? That bad things can happen? That drugs are evil? Wow, such profound thoughts! Let me write these down. If you’re looking for pearls of wisdom, try another movie. If you’re looking for searing action, this might work for you, but it’s sort of a tempered bit of action.

PROS: Vivid atmosphere, interesting plot

CONS: Aimless plot (but interesting!), bad characterizations, unseemly characters, kind of muted cinematography

Bringing Out the Dead: 4