Usually, when someone discusses the genius of Martin Scorsese, his 1999 film Bringing Out The Dead isn’t the main centerpiece. No one can deny Scorsese has made a lot of great films, some of which get overlooked because of how notable and influential so much of his filmography is. If you didn’t know, Bringing Out The Dead stars Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore. It follows a burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic (Cage) who fights to maintain his sanity over three disheveled nights.
The film was a box office bomb, only making $16.8 million against $32 million. Though some critics loved the film (Roger Ebert notably gave it a 4-star rating), the film never caught on and still hasn’t. In fact, countless film fanatics don’t even know Scorsese made a film starring Nicolas Cage.
Many point out that Bringing Out The Dead didn’t do well because of how it was advertised. People expected a car chase film about a paramedic, not an incredibly dark physiological drama riddled with odd humor. This isn’t to say Bringing Out The Dead doesn’t have its flaws. What’s more important is the discussion surrounding the film, specifically why so many people have missed out on this captivating film that is unique to its own.
Nic Cage as Frank Pierce
I love Nic Cage, and not in an ironic sense. I’ve admired what the actor has done over the years, specifically his work from Raising Arizona (1987) to Adaptation. (2002). If you’re a fan of his work, Bringing Out The Dead is everything you could love about Cage’s acting as paramedic Frank Pierce. Though Cage had the unfortunate paradox of blockbuster success combined with critically bashed films throughout the 2000s, his career has made a resurgence in a critical sense lately with films like Mandy (2018), Pig (2021), and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
Don’t conflate what I’m saying. Bringing Out The Dead isn’t jammed with cage-rage memes worthy of entertainment. Cage is fairly reserved as Frank Pierce (outside of the hallucination scene), as Pierce maddens and depression worsens over a few days in New York City. We see the occupational burnout in Pierce, which is predicated on Cage’s performance.
Pierce is an overworked paramedic plagued by the ghosts of people he couldn’t save and Catholic guilt (a common theme throughout Scorsese’s filmography). Violence and death are everywhere, with Pierce unsure if he should continue working, let alone anything.
The Darkest Scorsese Has Gone?
Bringing Out The Dead seems much darker compared to other Scorsese films. Though Scorsese has plenty of dark films, the look and feel of Bringing Out The Dead appears at an entirely different level. New York City looks like a grittier version of Gotham (if that’s possible), everyone seems to be on drugs, and no one materializes how you’d expect.
Arguably its most significant strength comes down to its editing. It’s disorganized and noisy in quick stints, conveying exhaustion as Pierce is experiencing. Who could forget that trip sequence? It’s a fever dream, and I could only imagine experiencing that in a theater for the first time.
Watch Bringing Out The Dead
Even the best of filmmakers can release a great film, only for it to be a box office flop. Bringing Out The Dead was misunderstood at its release and still hasn’t received the admiration it deserves, even with the recent surge of Nic Cage fandom.
Truthfully, Bringing Out The Dead has some issues. It has corny shots of ghosts, formulaic and repetitive voice-overs in the usual Paul Schrader fashion, and oddball dark humor that isn’t meant for everyone. However, those issues are relatively minor in a good film that deserves more.