Holiday 99: Bringing Out The Dead

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By Sékou
From Touchstone/Paramount  
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader
Based on the novel by: Joe Connelly
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore

There are some films you can't diss because of the people associated with it. You see "directed by Martin Scorsese" and you know you have to pay attention to what follows. And later, if your gut reaction is contrary, you're inclined to reflect, take another look, and see if there's anything you might have missed. Such was my struggle with Bringing Out The Dead. I didn't like it at first. It was disjointed, hyperkinetic, riddled with garish colors, and topsy-turvy camera angles. I had the feeling of being dizzy and off-balance, unsure whether my next step would meet with the familiar purchase of solid ideas and concrete concepts or slide perilously into the vaporous nothingness of confusion. It wasn't until later that I understood that was exactly the point.


Bringing Out The Dead follows Nicolas Cage's character, Frank Pierce, through fifty-six hours of his life as an EMS paramedic in New York City. Frank loves his job, or at least we get the impression that he used to love it before the onset of this film. During the film, however, he is traumatized by the fact that it's been too long since he's saved anyone's life. He keeps waiting for the ghastly curse to lift-- maybe the next call, or the next day, or the next week, but disappointment greets him cheerlessly at each turn, forcing him to bear witness to one heartrending death after another. The ghost of Rosa, a sixteen-year-old heart attack victim who he was unable to save, particularly haunts him. He sees her specter everywhere, and her presence mirrors his inner turmoil.

Throughout the film Frank's character interacts with a number of other outlandish EMS and hospital personnel who are all coping with death, tragedy and their own role in that morbid swill in different ways. Through them, he explores different ways to deal with his slump but, ultimately, he must find his own path to peace. Ironically, or perhaps by design, he finds the path to settle his soul through his interaction with the character played by Patricia Arquette, Cage's real life wife.

The movie is based on a novel by Joe Connelly who spent ten years as a New York City EMS operator.


As you may already know, at we chose to review films where there is at least one person of color in a lead role. In this film that person is Ving Rhames. Rhames plays Marcus, a fellow EMS operator who deals with the carnage of his job by taking refuge in religion. Rhames manages the role well, taking what could easily have been a coon-like role and imbuing it with a more genuine sense of mortality and earnestness-- without losing his comic timing. Some of the funniest moments of the film are owed to Rhames. Another African-American presence in the film is Sonja Sohn, last seen in Slam, who makes a brief appearance as a small-time drug czar's girlfriend. The drug czar in question is played deftly by Cliff Curtis who carries the part off with classic laid-back, tongue-in-cheek, "I'm-a-pimp" finesse.


While watching a film have you ever found yourself looking about your seat for a manual, program, script, anything to help you follow along? If you haven't, you will when you see this movie. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just that some of Cage's narrative is dense, and you may find yourself wanting to read along to fully appreciate the moment being portrayed on the big screen.

Remember me saying that the film kept me off-balance, but I realized later that that was the point? Well, the film rattled you and kept you on edge… the same way someone who had to constantly cope with copious amounts of blood, sudden, unexpected death, and a constant barrage of bereavement would be close to the edge. In that way, I think the film succeeds in giving us a private glimpse into a very taxing and unforgiving profession and the ways in which these extraordinary people deal with the grisly side effects of their job. Worth the loot, but only check it if you're in the mood to think.


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