Unfortunately, "Bringing Out the Dead" has no relation to the "bring out your dead" scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." However, this was the biggest disappointment I had from Martin Scorsese's newest film. "Bringing Out the Dead" is one of the better films of the year, and those who have been reading this column the last few weeks know that that's a high compliment coming from me. Martin Scorsese is responsible for at least four indisputable classics: "Goodfellas", "The Last Temptation of Christ", "Raging Bull", and "Taxi Driver." "Bringing Out the Dead" is not as good as those classics, but it is a perfect example of Scorsese's incredible talent.
"Bringing Out the Dead" is the story of three days in the life of Frank Pierce, an ambulance driver who's experiencing a streak of bad luck at his job. While bad luck to us may be computer or printer problems, or perhaps a bad grade, bad luck to Pierce is a streak where people keep dying on him. His job is no longer about saving lives, but about mopping up the pieces and getting rid of the mess. The toll of this job is wearing Pierce down. At one point he comments: "I came to realize that my work was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. I was a grief mop." Pierce spends his life immersed in human misery. Part of the beauty of Scorsese's work is that he manages to blend technically superb camera work with intensely intimate characterization. Through the stunning cinematography and the haunted narration, three nights in New York become a voyage through hell that would have Dante cowering in a corner.
Nicholas Cage is to be commended for his performance as Frank Pierce. Cage has made a career out of playing characters grappling with the darkness of humanity in movies such as "Leaving Las Vegas", "8MM", "Face/Off", and "Con Air." This film would not work with Cage's haunted, almost monotone narration, which counterpoints his desperate frenetic bursts of action.
Another fascinating element of this film is its use of religious imagery. Martin Scorsese seriously considered becoming a priest before taking up filmmaking, and the influence shows. Allusions to scripture abound, including a virgin birth, the "pale horse" of death, and the continuing metaphor of Pierce as "God" and "Savior". Rarely have I seen religious imagery used so subtly and powerfully.
However, this film is not for everybody. It builds slowly, which will spell boredom for some. The film is also dark and depressing, which can be a major turnoff for some. I highly recommend this story to anyone who likes the films of Martin Scorsese, or anyone who would is interested in being introduced to Scorsese's work. It builds slowly, but deliberately. Those who stick with it are in for an enjoyable, thoughtful film.
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