Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Joe Connelly, Paul Schrader
Starring: John Goodman, Marc Anthony, Mary Beth Hurt, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Frank is a paramedic, serving the rundown area in Manhattan. He’s not been himself in recent months after the death of a young woman from an asthma attack. Feeling as though he should have saved her, he’s haunted by her ghost as he performs his nightly duty as he and his paramedic partner drive around town, casting their eyes upon the lost, helpless souls. What makes matters worse is that since that night, he’s been unable to save any of the patients he’s attended. Being driven out of his mind by nightmares, Frank is at the brink of his sanity but no matter how difficult he’s finding life, his skills are needed and maybe, just maybe, he might be able to save someone.
Martin Scorsese’s black comedy drama BRINGING OUT THE DEAD is probably one of his lesser-known films but is well worth the watch as we follow Nicolas Cage’s burned out paramedic Frank Pierce over three nights as he attempts to save the lives of the people in Manhattan. I take my hat off to anyone who works in healthcare as it’s such a demanding job and is a service that we rely on so very much and are lucky to have. In this movie, we get a feel for what life on the streets of Manhattan in the 90’s might have been like for ambulance crews and even though there are obvious comedic elements to this film, I can imagine much of what is told is true. An adaptation of the book by Joe Connelly, an EMS himself, the film explores the ups and downs of the job and the emotions that come with being a paramedic. Not only that, we also get to see what it’s like for family members coping with loved ones in hospital and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with it.
Nicolas Cage is on top form as Frank Pierce, a paramedic who’s attempts to get sacked never end up succeeding as he tries to escape the grief and guilt he feels over the loss of his patients. Cage narrates many scenes as we get inside his thought process, on how saving lives is the best feeling in the world but how losses, especially several months of back to back deaths, are the worst. Turning to drink to try and rid himself of the nightmares he experiences whilst he’s awake, Frank is reaching ever closer to the brink of sanity. Propping him up on his night shifts are his fellow paramedics who make up the two-man ambulance crew on his shifts. The first night, we meet Larry, played by John Goodman, who has a good appetite and wants to deal with the good stuff, rather than keep bringing in the stinky patient who’s a repeat offender of falling over when drunk. The second night, Frank works with Ving Rhames’ Marcus, a smooth-talking religious type who likes to flirt with the female operator and sees their job as doing the Lord’s work. His faith produces one of the funniest scenes of the movie in which Frank and Marcus attend a young goth nicknamed I B. Bangin who’s overdosed in a nightclub. Frank’s subtle injection of narcan as Marcus summons Mr Bangin’s friends to hold hands and pray whilst Marcus preaches the Lord’s good work will more than generate a few giggles. Finally, on the third night, Frank teams up with Tom Sizemore’s violent paramedic Tom Wolls who likes to dish out his own beatings against people he deems to be scumbugs, particular when the working night is slow.
Whilst we get the impression that Frank and his crew mate take patients to many hospitals in the area, the one they seem to frequent in the movie is Mercy hospital. Nicknamed Misery, the hospital is overcrowded and overstretched with doctors working double shift to help their patients. A police officer works the waiting area to keep riffraff out and one of the nurses gives sarcastic outpatient talks to those who find themselves treated by the hospital. It’s here that Frank brings a heart attack victim who he manages to resuscitate. His daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette), attends the hospital in the hope that he’ll wake up but Frank suspects that his heart has stopped beating far too long for any semblance of the man they knew to be return to his family. Estranged from her father, Mary clings on to the hope that he’ll recover enough to patch up their relationship but as each day passes, it looks more and more as though her father’s survival is merely being stringed along to appease his emotions of his family, with no real chance of ever truly coming back. Frank seems to be able to confide in Mary as she too shares details of her troubled life. His blossoming friendship with Mary seems to be the only thing distracting him from the horrors he relives every shift as he struggles to deal with the grief of the job.
Gritty, witty and darkly realistic, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD is like a window into a world of one of the most stressful jobs. Wonderfully shot, it feels like a mixture of drama and front-line journalism, which certainly helps to portray the narrative of Connelly’s work. The light and sounds of the night shift really hit home the emotional instability of Frank’s that is hanging by a thread. Each shift feels like a drug induced experience, but will Frank ever feel that ultimate rush of saving a life again?