Today I watched Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead (1999)
Apparently I am in the mood for underrated Nicolas Cage movies, I cannot rightly say what the most underrated film ever is, but it must be a Nic Cage film… Actually this film was well reviewed, it just tragically bombed at the box office. Anyways Cage this time around portrays an ambulance paramedic named Frank in early 90’s New York. Frank is dangerously burned out and suffering from borderline schizophrenia, a side effect of the massive stress of seeing as many people die as he has during the night shifts. As the film begins he responds to a heart attack with his partner, though his heart has not been beating for quite some time. After taking the man back to the hospital, he begins a friendly relationship with the man’s daughter named Mary. The film then progresses in a somewhat episodic manner, flowing from the minor calls dealing with despondent street people to background narratives that involve a drug war, understaffed medical facilities, and Frank trying desperately to get fired. Through all of this, Frank is hallucinating the ghost of a girl named Rose who he failed to save, judging him constantly.
Cage is absolutely incredible in this film, absolutely, one of his best ever. Of course Scorsese’s mastery of urban decay, primarily New York urban decay, frames the performance perfectly. Together they really get into the breaking mind of someone who is not suffering post-traumatic stress only because the trauma never seems to end. This film is just a phantasmagorical nightmare of human misery, shot in a disorienting manner that visualizes the pain and chaos of the inner city streets at night. But it is not without a biting sense of humour, couching the horror with some eccentric characters and witty social satire.
Now, despite the darkness that I keep going over, by the end I actually felt pretty good. There is an uplifting undercurrent of humanism that serves to remind us that while the job may be one of the most stressful on the planet, it is one that saves lives. And beyond that there is this idea that saving a life is not this over the top victory against fate, sometimes it is the small acts of kindness, the empathy shown in harrowing situations that saves lives. I think this is a very uplifting theme because we normal people can’t always be the big damn hero as they are presented in most films, but we can be the shoulder to cry on, we can be the words of encouragement, and we can be the emotional support that makes someone else’s life worth living. Now I love a good adventure and I love over the top action and heroism, those films make us want to be heroes, but films like this teach us how to be heroes. 5/5