Visually stunning, but ultimately empty, Martin Scorses directs the story of the weekend of an EMS technician in New York City (Nicolas Cage) who has been on a streak of losing patients and is particularly haunted by the death of a young girl. We accompany Cage from call to call with his three partners (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore) to the hell that is bleeding and in-need-of-medical-attention New York. One stop takes Cage to a young woman (Patricia Arquette) whose father has suffered a heart attack. The man is revived by Cage, and in bonding with Arquette, he begins a reconciliation with his guilt. The movie has its moments, but Scorsese’s best work is when his visual ingenuity acts seamlessly with the narrative. For example, in Casino his outstanding shot of Sharon Stone throwing the casino chips into the air suggests her allure and you “get” why De Niro is immediately entranced.
In Bringing Out the Dead, Scorsese’s hyper-drives through the city illustrate Cage’s sense of dread and adrenaline rush. But the rest of the camera work is pointlessly showy and gimmicky, mainly because the narrative has died half-way through. While we know about Cage’s guilt, we want to move on, but the film doesn’t let us.
Cage, however, is very good. I was surprised that he was not talked up as a nominee. I thought his performance connected on the manic, the gentle and the guilt-ridden at the right times, without overplaying his hand. Arquette, on the other hand, is quite awful as the concerned daughter of the comatose father. She simply lacks the heft for the role of recovering and embittered drug addict.