Around the time he released Kundun, Martin Scorsese expressed a growing disinterest in creating narrative films, a sentiment that seemed both surprising and disappointing from a director with one of the strongest senses of narrative in the business. But even those who found Kundun less than wholly satisfying couldn't argue with the power of his hypnotic imagery, suggesting that a change of focus might not be such a bad move after all. If Kundun represented one extreme of Scorsese's current approach to filmmaking, Bringing Out The Dead suggests a middle ground between his story-driven past and a possible image-driven future. Like the novel (by former medic Joe Connelly) from which it's faithfully adapted by Paul Schrader, Dead is about moving fast and getting nowhere. Nicolas Cage stars as a New York City medic on the verge of burning out, a condition that's compounded after he saves the life of former junkie Patricia Arquette's father after not arriving soon enough to ensure that he won't spend the rest of his life in a coma. Over the course of three nights, Cage is accompanied by three decidedly different fellow medics (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore). As they travel to some of New York's least savory corners, Cage encounters patients who drift into his life briefly, as well as some who won't go away—some living (including a crazy homeless man played well by pop sensation Marc Anthony), some dead. An uncompromisingly dark, expertly directed and acted film, Bringing Out The Dead relies less on the forward momentum of its story than its overall tone, an alternate version of New York as hell (or maybe purgatory) from the team behind Taxi Driver. The fact that it deals with a far less sociopathic variety of fragile psyches, and fails to build up to a similarly extreme climax, may make its impact less immediate. But it also makes its story more universal. Caught between life and death, Cage has no choice but to work, contemplate whether he's doing the right thing, and wonder how much more he can take.
More from The A.V. Club