Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Bringing Out the Dead</strong> (1999)

(In French, on Cable TV, July 2016) As an entry in Martin Scorsese’s filmography, Bringing Out the Dead is often forgotten alongside his classic movies. Which is weird, considering that it’s a drama featuring Nicolas Cage as a paramedic at the height of the New York City crime epidemic of the early nineties. Directed with some of Scorsese’s flamboyance, it portrays NYC nights as barely repressed war zones in which paramedics are helpless to help their dying charges. Crime, drugs, heart attacks and accidents kill scores of victims, while Cage’s character goes crazy knowing that he hasn’t saved anyone in ages. As a Cage performance, it’s a rare blend between his Oscar-winning dramatic intensity and his borderline-insane grandiosity. The overall nightmarish atmosphere of the film seems just as unhinged as its lead actor, with the film taking place nearly entirely at night, in-between a hospital where everybody’s is shouting and bleeding, and the streets where the only people they meet are doing badly. Cage’s paramedic colleagues (the pretty good trio of John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore) are even more screwed up than he is and what’s more, he can’t quit even when he asks. Stripped of its showy hallucinatory sequences (including a flipping ambulance that should have been held in reserve for later during the film) Bringing Out the Dead isn’t much more than the story of a protagonist undergoing a nervous breakdown and picking himself up thanks to romance and a few ironic epiphanies. Set to Scorsese’s own rhythm, it’s a bit more than that, even though the pacing of the story severely slows down at times. It’s worth noting that the film was written by Paul Schrader, and fits squarely in the rest of his filmography as well. Scorsese’s affection for his city is obvious even when he’s portraying it as its lowest (and who doesn’t have a soft spot for the hellish NYC of the 1970s?), and it’s that kind of pairing (alongside Scorsese/Cage and Cage-the-actor/Cage-the-scenery-chomper) that makes Bringing Out the Dead interesting to watch even fifteen years later, perhaps as a time capsule yet unseen by many.

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