By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
I’ve heard Martin Scorcese and Paul Schrader referred to as the most productive writer-director relationship of the past 25 years, and with results like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ it’s hard to argue. The one product of this team you may have never seen, or forgotten about, is Bringing Out the Dead, but I’d easily put it right up there with all of them.
The story follows a sleep-deprived New York paramedic as he works three straight hellish nights trying to save what lives he can while his psyche frays and the specter of a girl he failed to save haunts him more and more. Could the daughter of one heart attack victim he brought in provide some glimmer of hope, or will the darkness and insanity of the New York streets swallow him whole?
Scorcese and Schrader created here a heightened, alternate version of New York, a hell that still resembles our world too much for comfort. Nicolas Cage navigates it during a very Catholic triptych of nights, alongside three dissimilar partners (bitchy John Goodman, born again Ving Rhames, and insane Tom Sizemore). He’s haunted by ghosts, one in particular- a young Latina girl who died on his watch, and whose face he sees everywhere.
Nic Cage + Ghosts = Awesome (give or take a “he’s the ghost, and he rides motorcycles”).
As the film moves along, we are taken on an almost Dante-esque journey as Cage’s world begins spinning out of control, but we’re unsure whether we’re descending deeper into hell or finding our way out of it. Cage certainly feels it’s the former, as the cumulative effects of his sleep deprivation mount up and he begins to fear whether he’s cursed to only witness the end of things, never to save another life, the one high that truly keeps these paramedics going.
It’s an incredibly intense, affecting film, but not without plenty of humor, albeit pitch black humor. One running bit has Cage convincing a deranged Marc Anthony to not commit suicide on the street by assuring him that there’s a nice sterile room where they’ll do it for him at the hospital.
Yes, that’s Marc Anthony. He’s comic gold.
The acting is uniformly excellent, with the standouts to me being Rhames and Anthony. Cage is much more restrained than we’ve seen in some time, but don’t worry, he still gets to rock some crazy. Still, it’s refreshing seeing him actually try, and being reminded he’s as good as anyone when he wants to be.
The star of the film for me, though, was the cinematography and set design. This New York is a neon-lit strip of derelict flophouses, seedy drug dens, overstuffed hospitals, towering penthouse apartments and trash strewn alleys, all connected by slick, wetblack streets in turn packed and abandoned. It’s a dark, desperate place, but a wholly real one for all its absurdity. I’ve never seen any other like it.
Bringing Out the Dead is one of Martin Scorcese’s few finest movies, period. That should be enough reason to watch it right there
Take a Drink: whenever Noel (dreads- Marc Anthony) freaks out
Take a Drink: for every call
Take a Drink: for every vision
Take a Drink: for every resurrection
Take a Drink: every time you see a red skull & crossbones
Do a Shot: “Don’t make me take off my sunglasses!”