Worth A Look: 18.18%
Just Average: 33.88%
Pretty Crappy: 9.09%
10 reviews, 61 user ratings
|Bringing Out the Dead
Oliver Stone seemed to start it with 'JFK,' or maybe 'Talk Radio' (I haven't seen either for awhile)-- a lighting technique wherein character(s) are engulfed by or walk beneath a hallucinatory-bright spotlight. When used effectively, the device adds a surreal intensity to a scene, and when done poorly, you get halfcocked nonsense like 'Bringing Out The Dead.' Even the ambulance lights flashing across Nicholas Cage's face somehow didn't look right. And though there were a handful of terrifically bent and beautiful shots, the majority of the movie's style felt pedestrian; it felt like some conventional TV-hospital show. (WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW)This isn't what I expect from a Martin Scorsese movie!!
"What's up with the super-bright-light shit?"
However, the real problem wasn't the cinematography (it still looked better than most movies, and infinitely better than any TV show), but that the style wasn't at the service of anything even slightly resembling substance.
The main character is Frank Pierce (Cage), a burnt-out paramedic, and considering that he narrates the movie, we're given very few insights into who this person is. It's hinted that he may be sick, or is experiencing a breakdown, or maybe he's an alcoholic. Most likely it's all that and more, but whatever the case, we're told that he's undergone a transformation for the worse just before the movie starts.
Are we told why Frank wanted to become a paramedic to begin with? Why he refuses to quit even though he clearly hates the job? No--mostly what we're told (hammered repeatedly over the head with, actually) is that he feels guilty because he couldn't save the life of "Rose" six months earlier. It's six-minute character development through narration--Frank tells us why we're supposed to care about him. He's sick, he's drunk, he's haunted by the people he couldn't save, all the horrible stuff. But it might have been more effective if we were actually shown this horrible haunting stuff, if we saw Frank's character actually go through this transformation. (Eventually we do get a nicely-photographed dream sequence depicting his encounter with Rose, but it does little to make Frank more human.) I suspect the audience is meant to sympathize and identify with Frank simply because he's tortured by inner-demons...but it doesn't work that way. We need to get inside this person's head and see his demons firsthand; we don't need to fully understand them, but we certainly need an idea of their shape and form. There's no denying Travis Bickle is one demented motherfucker, but the character is tangible because we experience his frustration and humiliation and rage right there with him. Frank, on the other hand, is an enigma, and a boring one too.
Cage's performance wasn't bad so much as one-note the entire movie, and I believe the blame for this belongs more with the screenwriter and the director.
The screenplay is by Paul Schrader, who also wrote 'Taxi Driver,' and it shows in the worst possible way. I'm unfamiliar with the book this screenplay's based on, but much of the movie felt like the poor half-retarded third cousin of 'Taxi Driver'. How could Scorsese not have seen what's so clear in the movie, that this story has virtually no narrative plot, and even less character development?
And how, in the name of all holies, could Scorsese not recognize the abysmal performance Patricia Arquette was giving? (It shocks me to no end when a great director lets a bad performance slip into one of their movies! For crikey's sake, did Francis Ford Coppola actually think Keanu was GOOD?!) I've been hesitant to jump off her bandwagon, mostly because of 'True Romance,' but man o man did she stink up the joint in this movie! Even a poorly written character can be interesting in the hands of a capable thespian, but Arquette was like a Hoover Upright, sucking all life and realism out of her scenes till they lay helplessly floundering.
And for a movie about a NYC paramedic, frankly I was expecting more blood and guts, I expected the screen to be splattered with gore. But until a scene toward the end, all we get is drunks and mental patients and cardiac arrests. And the ER waiting room scenes were ridiculous--I don't doubt it gets bad in such places, but Scorsese somehow manages to make it look like an idiotic Barnum&Baily sideshow.
And what the HELL'S up with the super-bright-lights? It's like in every other scene a character is supposed to be seeing an angel or entering the Kingdom of Heaven or something.
And could Frank's obsession with Rose ("the-patient-he-couldn't-save") have possibly been more tedious? And could that "gimme-some-water" freak have been more annoying? Dear God I was rooting for the evil-paramedic to beat the poor dumb bastard to death--I was pissed that Frank saved the character! And I have a hunch that's not the reaction Scorsese was going for.
And for a movie with so little plot, it relied pretty heavily on absurd coincidences, like having Frank run into the "gimme-water" freak every other scene--and having to rescue the same drug dealer he encountered not ten minutes earlier. Fooey!
And "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?"? And "WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY, KENNETH?"?!!
There's maybe twenty to thirty minutes of good--sometimes great--material strewn throughout this fiasco. A few good laughs. But most of it's less than inspired; the Scorsese touch is still evident, he just needs some decent material.
Much of what's wrong with this movie is encapsulated in the final scene: Mr. Cage goes to tell Mrs. Cage that her father has passed away (in fact he has killed her father because he [sic] psychically heard him pleading to be put out of his misery [either that or he's insane, you decide!]), and then Mr. Cage is haunted by the face of Rose (for about the umpteen-millionth time in the movie) and he asks for forgiveness and Mrs. Cage humors the poor crazy bastard, and they go inside and she lets him use her bosom as a pillow, and then......and then they're slowly flooded by way-too-bright light, and it's like I sat on the remote and accidentally turned the channel from 'ER' to 'Touched By An Angel'. AHHHHHHH!*%#&!!!
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originally posted: 11/04/99 08:04:58