Bringing Out The Dead

Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames
Extras: Theatrical Trailers, Cast and Crew Interviews

In our fevered ’been there, done that’ culture, people sometimes disregard the fact that great artists often revisit themes over the course of their creative lives. How many times did Hitchcock explore the idea of someone falsely accused? The works of Martin Scorcese have invariably been about Redemption, and ’Bringing Out The Dead’ continues this exploration. This was easily the most under-appreciated film of 1999, and that’s a shame, because this is the work of a master filmmaker in top form.

The movie takes us on a 3 day journey with Frank Pierce, an ambulance driver in Manhattan, and 3 different partners. Frank is burned out; he hasn’t saved a life in months, and he’s haunted by the vision of a young girl that he failed to save. He feels deeply for people and can’t separate himself from his experiences. His life in limbo, he’s driven by a desperate need to save souls so that he might save his own. This desperation gives way to one of the most incredible scenes in any film last year as, in a drug-induced hallucination, he imagines himself pulling scores of ghosts up from beneath the city streets to save them.

Paul Schrader’s (’Taxi Driver’, ’Raging Bull’) incisive screenplay is adapted from the novel by Joe Connelly. Working from this foundation, Scorcese presents us with an often harrowing experience, the narrative lurching fitfully through the night. More than mere trickery, he uses the fractured, hallucinatory structure to inform the substance of his film. It’s not flash for its own sake…it provides us an opportunity to sink deeply into the exaggerated viewpoint of this desperate soul as he searches for personal redemption. Supporting this style, the editing, by longtime Scorcese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, is brilliant and I simply cannot understand why it didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Nicholas Cage, as Frank, gives his best performance since ’Leaving Las Vegas’. Ving Rhames, as one of Frank’s partners, and Cliff Curtis as a smooth drug dealer are superb, with Tom Sizemore and Marc Anthony (yes, him!) also notable.

Paramount presents ’Bringing Out The Dead’ in a Widescreen presentation, enhanced for 16×9 TVs, and they’ve done an excellent job. The glare of slightly bleached colors set against the darkness of the streets makes for a darkly beautiful, but very difficult color balance. The transfer is excellent and quite faithful to the artists’ vision. Don’t adjust your sets, this is how it looked in theaters. The offered soundtracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround and while both are effective, the 5.1 track is superb. The sound stage is robust and applied to perfection, immersing us in the chaotic sounds of the city and surrounding us with a great musical soundtrack. Extras include 2 trailers, and a nice but short interview piece with Scorcese and most of the key performers.

Bringing Out The Dead is highly recommended viewing and this superb DVD does this outstanding film justice.