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IN SHORT: Dreadful. [Rated [R],  minutes]
As always, we don't compare to Source Material.
Nicolas Cage has so perfected the hang-dog, wasted, puppy-eyed, lost in his own body look that it would be really, really nice if he did something else for a change. After five years as an Emergency Medical Technician, EMT for short, Frank Pierce (Cage) is doing just about everything he can to get his ass busted off the job. His gig has turned into an endless rut of cardiac failures and drug overdoses. He can't remember the last time he saved a call. His sleep isn't restful and he's haunted by the ghostly face of Rose, a girl he accidentally helped to kill in the earliest days of his career. Pierce is a man who has hit bottom so hard, well, we've seen Cage do it before. . .
The only distraction from what has become a mind-numbing, soul destroying career is Mary (Patricia Arquette), daughter of yet another cardiac arrest. Mary has got some drug-taking backstory which adds a couple extra interesting actors of supporting stature -- Marc Antony plays Noel, a brain damaged street loon, said damage caused by an enforcer named Tiger, employee of Stress Reduction Specialist (ie. drug dealer) Cliff Curtis (Cy Coates), a real slick dude -- but she's another wrecked soul and the start of their "relationship" has all the spark of a wet match.
Over the course of two plus days of the story, three different partners comment on Pierce's attraction to Mary and his obvious problems with the job. Larry's (John Goodman) is the partner who dreams of Captain bars and "retirement" to a different unit in the suburbs of Long Island; he faces his shift with utter indifference, to keep the pain away. Marcus (Ving Rhames, sporting a full head of hair for a change), the brightest spark in the entire flick, is having the time of his life saving souls and preaching to the same Souls as a counterpoint to the daily grind of seeing the destitute, drug addicted, and frail old folk that are the residents of his route. His stern warning about getting involved with the daughter of a call follows the more important rule number one, don't get emotionally attached to the work, ever. Which, of course, is Pierce's problem. [Rhames is good in just about everything I've seen him do, which is why I jumped at the chance to have him sit for StarTalk. It's a great interview. Check it out] Partner number three, Tom Walls (Tom Sizemore) is in the game for the blood, regardless of the cause. If he's got to beat up on some poor shnook, mentally or physically, to get the job done, so be it.
If you want to make a movie which pushes the limits of acceptable behavior in favor of moving the story along, it would be greatly helpful if there was a minimum of material that the audience can connect to, to help us believe in the character that is at the center of the story. The supporting characters, from Rhames on down, are the only elements that bring a feeling of "real-ness" to the story. Nicolas Cage's recurring hang-dog looks are no substitute for character development. His character's ups and downs are so arbitrary that it is inconceivable that any job supervisor would look the other way and allow the man to climb behind the wheel. Yet, that is exactly what happens as the coming crackup is pointedly ignored ("I'll fire you tomorrow!") by a captain who barks like a dog.
Director Martin Scorsese has brought to the screen, I'm guessing, everything he knows about visual story telling. There are lovely slow-speed shutter shots where headlights blur into streaks of light; super-focussed overhead shots of the speeding EMS truck and other visually impressive elements. Problem is, beautiful stuff doesn't necessarily have soul, and Cage's character is so dead on his feet that his redemption, when it comes, doesn't bring anything but a sigh of relief from the audience that the film is finally over. At a relatively short 110 minutes, the two plus days shown on screen feel like three months.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Bringing Out The Dead, he would have paid...
Midweek rental level, solely for Goodman and Rhames and the soundtrack. Cranky guesses that way too much money was spent on clearing the rights for songs by the Stones, Bob Marley, The Clash, Joe Jackson and more, 'cuz they intrude with distracting regularity. In a serious story, this trivial stuff shouldn't draw attention to itself. It does.
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