Posted by: ckckred | June 19, 2013

Bringing Out The Dead

One of Martin Scorsese's most overlooked films

One of Martin Scorsese’s most overlooked films

There have been few filmmakers as influential in the second half of the twentieth century as Martin Scorsese.  Since he emerged in the age of New Hollywood, Scorsese has been at the peak of cinema.  By the 90s, Scorsese showed no age in his films and started off the decade with GoodFellas, which wasn’t only the decade’s best movie but also set a standard for stylistic action pictures.  The legendary filmmaker closed the decade as well as the first century of commercial moviemaking with another great picture that evokes the director’s earlier movies.  1999 was quite a year for movies, perhaps the best since the 70s.  The year’s best movie, Magnolia, as well as another great movie from 1999 Being John Malkovich worship the idea of individualism that inhabits Scorsese’s work and their directors (Paul Thomas Anderson and Spike Jonze respectively) clearly page homage to the master filmmaker.  Bringing Out The Dead continues Scorsese’s tradition of examining a flawed, depressed character trying to adjust himself to the world.

Longtime Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader wrote Bringing Out The Dead.  Schrader created the scripts for three of Scorsese’s best movies, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of ChristBringing Out The Dead could be considered an update of Taxi Driver.  Both take a look at a man driving down the streets of New York City, seeing the pain and anguish of the area.  Taxi Driver was set in the 70s and Bringing Out The Dead is set back in the early 90s, but New York still seems like the same place.  Hookers stand on the side of the streets, drug dealers roam the sidewalks, and there’s violence and death anywhere.

Taxi Driver was told through the eyes of cabbie Travis Bickle.  Bringing Out The Dead is told through Frank (Nicolas Cage), a medic pained by the city he lives in and the people in it.  Bringing Out The Dead is only about three days of Frank’s life and the movie features an episodic narrative, but the story feels conclusive.  Frank wants to help others, but cannot seem to do so.  His patients keep dying on him and he’s haunted by the ghosts of his past.  Frank’s tired, sick, and worn down.  He finds company in Mary (Patricia Arquette), a pained woman concerned about her father, whom Frank took to the hospital after he suffered through a heart attack.  Mary is Frank’s will and might.  He’s concerned about her and wants to help her and her family and he continuously updates them on Mary’s father’s status.

During each of the three days, a different medic accompanies Frank.  The first day, Larry (John Goodman) rides with Frank, the second day Marcus (Ving Rhames), and the third day Walls (Tom Sizemore).  All three of these medics have different attitudes towards their work.  Larry does his job in hope of saving enough money in order to leave New York.  Marcus is a devoted Christian who brings his religious beliefs to his profession; in one scene after Frank revives a drug addict, Marcus declares the event a miracle.  Walls is violent and abusive, particularly to Noel (Marc Anthony), a runaway patient constantly in trouble.

Each day, Frank grows more tired, sicker, and more ghostly.  Scorsese and Schrader constantly use narration to describe Frank’s thoughts and feeling and by doing so provide commentary on not only the character’s lost dreams and hopes but New York City in general.  No director has ever quite grasped New York like Scorsese has, and he analyzes the city in a new era.  Bringing Out The Dead is violent in some scenes, sad in others, and Scorsese keeps tight control over the camera.

Scorsese’s direction is complemented by Nic Cage’s performance as Frank.  While it’s easy to dismiss Cage today, I believe him to be a great actor and in Bringing Out The Dead he delivers a somber performance as Frank.  Cage does not overact or over-exaggerate the character, letting scenes flow out until Frank finally erupts.  Frank fits well with the suicidal drunk Cage played in Leaving Las Vegas, and this remains one of the actor’s best roles.

Bringing Out The Dead never quite succeeded financially and performed badly at the box office, which is a great shame because this remains one of the fiercest and finest portraits Scorsese has ever painted.  The film is tragic, but uplifting in the way only the great director could accomplish.



  1. I’ve never seen this movie. In fact I’ve never heard a lot about it. I think it’s time to add it to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the review.

    • Thanks! It’s available on Netflix Instant streaming right now. I hadn’t seen this movie in a while and it improved after a second viewing.

  2. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.

    • No problem! This is an excellent movie.

  3. It’s quite depressing and extremely odd, but I think that’s what Scorsese was going for. Certainly one of Nic Cage’s best roles.

    • Thanks for the comment. One of Cage’s best roles indeed, makes me wish he’d go more for these kind of movies.

      • …and less of The Wicker Man.

      • Not the bees!

      • THE BEES!!! Oh geeze!!!!! One of the worst performances and films that I can remember.

      • Yeah, it’s a terrible movie, though really unintentionally funny.

  4. One of Scorsese’s I’ve heard about but not seen. Must fix that.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s a great movie and one of Scorsese’s most overlooked. It’s available on Netflix Instant right now, I haven’t seen it for quite a while and it was better than I remembered.

  5. Haven’t seen it, but it does sound interesting. You certainly can’t go wrong with Scorsese. Good review.

    • Thanks! It’s available on Netflix Instant right now. It’s a great movie for sure.

  6. “Bringing Out The Dead is only about three days of Frank’s life and the movie features an episodic narrative, but the story feels conclusive.” very true. Scorsese and Schrader do a great job of making the seemingly random events in the story flow naturally and actually definitely end.
    Also agree with what you said about the film being uplifting. I think this is in part due to the humor, which is way more present here than in most of Scorsese’s films. I laughed quite a few times during this film, but it was also sad and depressing in others. It has a wide emotional range, which is one of the many things that makes it such a great film.
    Nic Cage was never separated from his character in this film; he did a great job. He went a bit over the top at some points, but that’s because Frank was about to loose it and it fits.
    Glad you decided to review this! Great review as always!

    • Thanks! Scorsese really tries to tell one man’s story through three days of Frank’s life. This is one of Cage’s finest performances in my opinion.

  7. I very vaguely remember watching this. I think it was sad?

    • It’s a very depressing movie, though it is superb.

  8. One of Scorsese’s lesser known but most underrated pictures. Cage is fantastic too. Poor old Nicolas; what happened eh?!

    • Thanks for the comment. I think this is one of Scorsese’s most underrated work as well. It also is a great reminder of how great of an actor Nic Cage was. I think Cage picks scripts at random these days, that’s the only explanation I can think of on why he starred in The Wickerman.

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