Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

The same way CASINO felt like a retread of GOODFELLAS, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD feels like a retread of TAXI DRIVER. Covering forty-eight hours in the life of Nicholas Cage’s burn-out paramedic character, Scorsese and Paul Schrader make a third murky character study about a man worn down by their roles in life, navigating a world they feel adrift from. But it’s thin and repetitive in a way those films aren’t.

Cage actually works quite well, certainly not at self-parody levels of his career yet. His sad eyes suit the character perfectly. And the very Catholic sort of concern regarding a dichotomy of wanting to save and wanting to be destroyed, as well as feeling more a harbinger of pain and death than anything else, that all kind of works. It works best in the ending with its focus on euthanasia, a nice tangly development deepening those sort of ideas. The self-acceptance and resignation of how that plays out is fascinating.

But most of the film is built around Cage’s character’s thoughts and relationship with Patricia Arquette’s woefully thin, undereveloped, flatly-played (even as strong an actress as her struggled with this material), and her presence as a kind of trope-laden dream girl, it really pulls the film down into a derivative kind of structure that plays poorly with the film’s more interesting ideas, like embodying overtiredness with dramatic second winds and brief periods of great noise and energy followed by things simmering down for extended stretches.

It’s pleasing to look at, with the colours and truly dark blacks contrasting strikingly, but it’s undercooked, with nobody working at the top of their game. Three cliche visions, and a denied firing.

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