Bringing Out the Dead, 1999. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Nicholas Cage, Ving Rhames, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, Patricia Arquette.

Bringing Out the Dead reunites Martin Scorsese with screenwriter Paul Schrader, whose previous collaborations include Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. This isn't the fortuitous reunion one might expect because, although Scorsese is still the top dog among American directors, Schrader is not the scenarist he once was (Affliction notwithstanding). The film follows paramedic Nicholas Cage through three nights of his life. He is coming apart at the seams, haunted by the ghosts of the people he couldn't save. Through the three nights depicted in the film, he searches for his redemption. He finds it, sort of. All well and good--it sounds like an ideal Scorsese screenplay. It isn't. It provides characters that are colorful, but not convincing (Tom Sizemore's gung ho paramedic is such a charicature that he doesn't function as a character) and dialog that is stilted and (often) cliched. Nicholas Cage gives a fine performance, but it isn't good enough to hang the movie on. The best character in the movie is Ving Rhames, whose bible thumping, womanizing paramedic would make a great subject for a film. The visuals are often enough to rescue the movie. Scorsese's cityscapes are like no one else's. He has painted a picture of his own private hell. There are two amazing hallucination sequences, too, that form the film's centerpieces. But everything else seems a little bit off the game. When Cage finds his redemption, the movie just seems to peter out, as Scorsese frames the final scene of the movie as a symbolic Pieta. It doesn't work. It is unsatisfying. Bringing Out the Dead is ultimately a cold fish of a movie.

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