(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Bringing Out the Dead
Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video
The Pitch: Insomniac paramedic Nicolas Cage is at the end of his rope as he navigates around a hellish New York City, trying to save the sick and dying.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: The words “underrated” and “Scorsese” don’t really go together. For almost his entire career, Martin Scorsese has garnered high praise – and rightfully so. He’s one of our best living directors, if not the best. But if there is such a thing as an underrated Scorsese movie, it might just be Bringing Out the Dead, a fantastic film that flopped at the box office and currently only has 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. Which is a damn sham since this is one of Scorsese’s best films.
Bringing Out the Dead is like the spiritual successor to Taxi Driver. Not only does it take Martin Scorsese back to the dark, dirty streets of NYC, it also reunites him with Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader. Like so many Schrader-scripted films, this is a portrait of a man in crisis. That man is Frank Pierce, a paramedic who looks like he hasn’t slept in a year. Pierce is played by Nicolas Cage, and anytime someone wants to joke that Cage is a bad actor, show them this movie – he’s great, using that manic energy of his to perfectly reflect Frank’s inner turmoil.
Frank patrols the streets of New York in his ambulance with a rotating group of partners (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore), and all the while, he’s haunted by the ghosts of people he’s failed to save – primarily a teenage girl named Rose. Meanwhile, Frank is also drawn to a recovering addict (Patricia Arquette, who was married to Cage at the time), the daughter of one of Frank’s patients.
With this set up, Scorsese takes us through a season in hell as Frank has one wild night after another. Cinematographer Robert Richardson blows out the lighting here, with streetlamps burning the way they do when you’re low on sleep. Everything and everyone looks damned, like we’ve been dropped into some circle of hell that looks like New York in the ’90s.
And through it all, Scorsese goes nuts, cranking up the speed of the film, layering over punk rock music, and working with constant editor Thelma Schoonmaker to create Frank’s fractured, sleep-deprived world. And if there’s a light at the end of this long, dark, hellish tunnel, it’s the promise of a good night’s rest. Frank, haunted by his failures, has to learn to forgive himself long enough to shut his eyes for a few hours. And then it’s back out into the night, looking for more bloody bodies to save.
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