Directed By Martin Scorsese
By: Eric G.
It’s hard to place this film in a proper frame of reference. The story itself is simple enough: a burned out EMS driver seeks refuge from the extreme lows and highs of saving and losing lives on the dark streets of New York City. Nicolas Cage turns off the “movie star” persona he’s assimilated in his recent work, and gives a multi-textured performance- easily his best since Leaving Las Vegas. The film is set over a three-day period in which Cage’s sleep-deprived, semi-alcoholic character drifts through the late nights haunted by visions of the ghost of a girl that he lost on his watch. With a different partner each night, Cage faces demons even scarier than his own, and Scorsese films it all with a jumpy fervor that makes the film as stylish as it is substantive.
Scorsese has a good ear for matching music with his images, and songs by The Clash and The Who give his jittery night shots the perfect tone, but twice in the film the song choices are so peculiar as to seem deliberately out of place. “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?” by R.E.M. blares out early in the film and doesn’t fit the dark, gritty atmosphere of the scene at all, and, likewise, the use of the 10,000 Maniacs’ minor hit “These Are Days” is almost laughable in this context (well, it’s laughable on several levels, but particularly here). Scorsese always plays a major hand in the choosing of his music, and, otherwise, did a pretty amazing job reflecting the hyperbolic emotions that the film elicits.
Cage’s co-stars and partners each night range from the spiritually deluded to the paranoid and sociopathic. Ving Rhames really shows his chops here finally playing a role that doesn’t somehow resemble his breakout performance as Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. John Goodman’s character is crazy but relatively harmless. It’s Tom Sizemore’s character that causes real unease. His arbitrary code of ethics makes Cage out to be a hero in a violent and bizarre sequence of events. Patricia Arquette steps up to the plate for the chance to act under Scorsese, and delivers a respectable performance as a recovering junkie. She struggles to stay clean when faced with her father’s imminent death and somehow becomes Cage’s salvation.
Scorsese never loses his sense of black humor despite the bleak portrait he paints. The story is fuelled by Cage’s deadened voice-overs and shocking bursts of streaming color set against the daunting Manhattan nights. We see the world through Cage’s eyes and get sucked into his hazy sleepwalking world where ghosts seek revenge and dead bodies talk. Scorsese handles the fantastic bits by carefully avoiding cliche and the absurd, keeping it all in Cage’s head. Bringing Out The Dead is not an easy film to swallow; it’s the type that you’re not quite sure how to take when you’re watching it, but the more you think about it later the clearer everything becomes.