For this week’s The Forgotten, I thought it might be finally time to remember 1999 and how great a year it was for movies….and then remember that one that got away.
It’s 1999 and Martin Scorsese has directed Nicholas Cage in one of his greatest on-screen performances, which was seen by practically no one.
Based on the novel by Joe Connelly and adapted by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Frank Pierce (Nicholas Cage) is a paramedic who is slowly losing his mind. Why? Because his nights spent driving around an ambulance and encountering the worst of the city have finally gotten to him. He’s constantly reminded of those he couldn’t save and of the kinds who are beyond help. He also realises that his co-workers who sit beside him who might be even crazier than the people they pick up. Whilst he spends his night trying to get fired and maintain some sanity, he meets Mary (Patricia Arquette) , the daughter of a patient he’s brought in. She’s an ex-junkie who needs an intervention of her own, but before they can help each other out, Frank has to face his demons & past failures; and above it all, get some effing sleep.
Bringing out the Dead was released in cinemas in late 99′ – early 00’s with an R18+ rating, thus making its theatrical bow a very limited one. I don’t think the rating is fair as the violence and ugliness seen in the film is justified and observational; and it was largely this too-high rating which prevented people from seeing it at the time of its release.
This is one of Scorsese’s very best. It has a sense of humour in spite of the vile people encountered in a city that’s renowned for its beauty and attraction. But are they really vile? Or are they merely products of an environment most don’t seem to acknowledge once the sun goes down?
This is one of Scorsese’s most beautiful looking films, with each set piece looking as if it’s a dream and not something which has been filmed. The performances are all amazing especially that from Cage, the film’s protagonist. Arquette goes above and beyond just a simple love interest; John Goodman is great as his aggressive yet passionate co-worker; Ving Rhames (Giving the film one of its best scenes) is a man barely holding on through faith; and Tom Sizemore is a paramedic who really has lost his sanity. Frank looks at him as a reminder of who not to become. Even Marc Anthony as a suicidal junkie is great stuff. They each do everything they can in their performances to emphasise their characters, who have more depth than your average one-dimensional supporting co-star. Scorsese makes sure you care about each and every one of them, even if they are insane in some way due to the horrors which they’ve each encountered.
So why should you revisit or even visit this film for the first time? Scorsese is a lover of cinema, tortured souls and New York, and Bringing out the Dead is an amalgamation of the three. Sometimes when we go to the movies we want to be transported somewhere different, somewhere horrible. This is all ok when we have characters we care about taking us there, so we can work out what we’re seeing together. For all the horrors that we witness throughout the film, there’s a quiet sadness and affection that lingers throughout.
Bringing out the Dead is a challenging, beautiful and sometimes sweet drama on regret, loneliness and madness that should be recognized.
By Chris Elena