Bringing Out The Dead
January 17, 2000

Martin Scorsese has done it again. He's made a bad movie.

Hey, it's not like I'm happy about it or anything. I saw GoodFellas two nights in a row when it came out because I enjoyed it so much the first time, and Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and (especially) The King of Comedy are some of my favorite films.

For some reason, every film since GoodFellas (with the exception of Kundun, which I haven't seen) has been kinda crappy. Cape Fear, Casino, The Age of Innocence (argh! Winona Ryder!), and now this picture.

Nicholas Cage plays a burned-out paramedic struggling through a myriad of surreal situations and overly lit scenes (courtesy of cinematographer Robert Richardson). He rides with three other paramedics over the course of three nights, played by John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore.

What was bad about this film? It's weird. It seems like Scorsese is doing the same things that he does in films that I really like, but here they have lost the spark, oomph, whatever. Stylistic camera fluorishes that were great in GoodFellas or Taxi Driver seem out of place here, done for their own sake (and not terribly interesting to begin with). For a lack of a better word, I'll call this the Oliver Stone school of filmmaking. Scorsese has done and can still do better than the old fartbag that assaulted the moviegoing public with Nixon, U-Turn and Natural Born Killers.

Scorsese's use of music is usually great, like in the last 30 or so minutes of GoodFellas where we watch the hours leading up to a coked-out Henry Hill's arrest, or the first time we see Robert DeNiro's character Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, in a nifty tracking shot accompanied by the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Here, the music seemed not to fit with the narrative, seemed there only to fill up space, often to the point of annoyance. Perhaps I just didn't like his choice of tunes. 10,000 Maniacs? Icky-poo.

The screenplay of Bringing Out The Dead is by one-trick pony Paul Schraeder, who specializes in the lonely-guy-in-seedy-world-looking-for-redemption genre, whether it's movies he's written (Taxi Driver) or movies he's written and directed (Hardcore). Usually the redemption involves an innocent girl who is in danger of being swallowed up by the wicked world. In Taxi Driver it was Jodie Foster, here it's Patricia Arquette. YAWN.

Probably my least favorite part of the film was the monotonous religious themes and undertones. Hey, I know Scorsese is Catholic, and his faith is certainly an important part of his life, and it's a major component in virtually all of his films. Still, it felt pretty darned hackneyed in this movie. Nicholas Cage's search for salvation gets tedious rather quickly.

The ending shot of the film especially blew. Cage is cradled by Patricia Arquette's character Mary(!) Burke in a position resembling the Pieta. But wait! There's more. In the course of this final shot more sunlight comes into the room, causing them to GLOW. Thanks again to cinematographer Robert Richardson for assisting the director in hammering home his overwrought Catholic symbolism.

Ah well, better luck next time.

See you at the movies. Save me the unstained seat.