"Bringing Out the Dead" is no "Taxi Driver." Think "Ambulance Driver."
Of all director Martin Scorsese's films, this overly ambitious dark comedy-drama may be one of his most unfocused, inconsistent works, and one that even his most ardent of fans may be divided over.
Yet in spite of its many obvious faults including a muddled, flabby midsection, and a sure-to-be-controversial subplot that may be misinterpreted if anyone probes for a message there's something compelling about this rambling wreck of a movie, which reunites Scorsese with his "Taxi Driver" collaborator, scribe Paul Schrader.
Some moments of brilliance and tenderness emerge amid all the chaos, not the least of which is Nicolas Cage's spellbinding performance as Frank Pierce, a burned-out paramedic in New York City (circa the early '90s).
Five years of handling tragedies or, more correctly, trying to handle tragedies has taken a toll on Frank, who's turned to alcohol for refuge, and who has begun seeing the ghosts of those patients he couldn't save.
So, in the midst of a chaotic three-day period, Frank begins to lose it, much to the horror of his three very different partners during that period the gung-ho Larry (John Goodman), soulful Marcus (Ving Rhames) and the possibly unhinged Walls (Tom Sizemore).
One good thing does happen to Frank, however. He seems to find a kindred spirit in Mary (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of a heart-attack victim still clinging to life, though just barely.
Of course, there's a lot more than that going on in Schrader's plot (adapted from Joe Connelly's best-selling novel), but to say anymore would ruin some of the surprises, and there are quite a few.
Where the film really succeeds is as a spotlight for Cage, who manages to make Frank extremely human and sympathetic, in spite of certain character developments.
Of course, he does get terrific support from Rhames, Goodman and Sizemore. And Arquette's monotone mumble actually seems appropriate to her emotionally disconnected character here.
"Bringing Out the Dead" is rated R for profanity, gore (including makeup effects and hospital gore), simulated drug use (marijuana, crack cocaine and barbiturates), a pair of violent beatings, use of racial epithets and ethnic slurs, a crude gesture and brief male partial nudity.