"Saving someone's life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world. God has passed through you. Why deny it, that for a moment there, God was you?"
Bringing Out the Dead presents a dark and bleak view of New York City as we get to experience it through the main character's depressive perception. Working as an ambulance paramedic, Frank Pierce has always found purpose in his life in saving others, but after not being able to save a young girl and feeling haunted by her ghost he has lost his passion and begins to question his existence. The torment he is experiencing leads him to an identity crisis that impacts the way he (and therefore we the audience) sees the city. Martin Scorsese gets all the technical aspects of the film right, teaming up with his usual collaborators: the cinematography done by Robert Richardson and the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, but somehow the story doesn't work as well. I understand what he was trying to do, but I just couldn't care for the characters in this film and it all felt a little too surreal for my taste. This is the first film from Scorsese that I've seen that hasn't worked for me, but I do have to give him credit for delivering on the technical aspects. There are also some great moments and some supporting performances that worked really well for me, but it only made me wish the film focused on those characters instead of on Frank. The unique way in which the city was portrayed through Frank's eyes as he's dealing with his personal demons and nightmares really never engaged me because I didn't care for his character. His partners on the other hand were much more engaging and I wish we could've seen it through their eyes instead.
The screenplay was adapted by Paul Schrader from Joe Connelly's novel of the same name. This was Schrader and Scorsese's fourth and final collaboration together after having worked in Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Bringing Out the Dead is perhaps most similar to Taxi Driver in tone, but it is a departure from most of his work considering its surreal and nightmarish tone. The film follows Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) as he drives across New York City in his ambulance during the night shifts. It's a two man ambulance team although his partners switch every night. Frank is completely burned out considering he hasn't been able to save anyone over the past few weeks and is eagerly awaiting to be fired. His partners don't seem to be experiencing the same problem as they all seem to deal with their demons in different ways. There's Larry (John Goodman) who is constantly thinking about food, Marcus (Ving Rhames) who is a religiously devoted man, and Tom (Tom Sizemore) who borderlines on psychotic behavior. They work for Mercy Hospital, which is always full of wacky characters and very crowded. Frank begins to fraternize with the daughter of one of the patients he brings in, her name is Mary (Patricia Arquette), and she seems to be the only good thing about his job now. Tormented by the ghosts of those he couldn't save, he searches for his salvation through trying to help Mary and saving both of them in the process.
Despite not enjoying this film as much as I have other Scorsese movies, I have to admit that there were some incredibly entertaining scenes. Ving Rhames has an amazing scene along Nicolas Cage and one of the patients they are trying to save. It was hilarious. He was by far my favorite character in the film. Patricia Arquette was also pretty interesting, and Cliff Curtis also had a couple of great scenes as Cy. Those were the highlights for me in an exhilarating and fast paced film that failed to engage me with the main character played by Cage. Scorsese does manage to capture the chaos and darkness of the city in a very unique way and the technical brilliance of this film stand out above the story. It's a demented film, but it just wasn't my type of movie because the story was emotionally uninvolving. I will give it credit for the hilarious scenes, but I was let down by the lack of an engaging story.