Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 5/17/00
Bringing Out the
1999 (2000) - Paramount
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/C
Specs and Features
120 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:06:44, in chapter
18), Amaray keep case packaging, cast and crew interviews, 2
theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (30
chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles:
English, Closed Captioned
Bringing Out the Dead is
Martin Scorsese's manic, frenzied look at three hellish nights in
the life of Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), an EMS worker in Hell's
Kitchen. For one reason or another, the film was largely overlooked
in theaters, despite the fact that critics received it with great
praise and admiration. But with its arrival on DVD comes a chance
for audiences to see what they missed the first time around.
For the most part, Bringing Out the Dead
is an exercise in style over substance. Scorsese's superb direction
is there, but the story is a little more underdeveloped than it
should be. Frank develops more in three days than most people do in
a lifetime. When we first meet Frank, he tells us in narration that
he drinks too much. He is calm but weary, and aware that he is in a
job that will eventually do him in. By the end of the third day, he
is so unraveled and deranged that he is willing to beat a man with a
bat to make his job (and his life, for that matter) easier.
What helps the story are the performances by a strong supporting
cast. John Goodman is good as Frank's levelheaded counterpart on his
first night. The second night we see Frank, he's riding with Marcus
(Ving Rhames), who brings a theatrical gospel touch to the
profession. As Frank does his best to save an overdosed party-goer,
Marcus breaks into an inventive sermon about the evils of drugs and
the goodness of God.
It's in the last act of the film, during Frank's third night, that
the story goes over the top. In a failed attempt to get fired, Frank
shows up late to work, only to be paired with Tom Walls (Tom
Sizemore). Tom makes your average disgruntled postal worker seem
like Mother Teresa. Here is a person so detached from his life and
profession that he beats the hell out of the people he is supposed
to be saving. By the end of this night, both Tom and Frank are so
drunk and high that they lose what little respect they had for
themselves and others.
Perhaps the story would have connected better with me if I had seen
just a little more of Frank's personal side. We only see him at
work, and that doesn't create a very "whole" picture of
him. He hates his job so much that he drinks while there, yet from
what we're given, we're to believe that his work is his life.
Nicolas Cage again plays a down-on-life drunk, but his work here
comes nowhere near the brilliance he displayed in
Leaving Las Vegas. Yes, the
movie is supposed to have a hard comic edge to it, but the
transition from the uneasy detachment on the first night to the
comic sidekick in the third happens so quickly that it almost seems
like Cage is playing three different characters. Had this part of
the story been written better, I probably would have liked it more
than I ultimately did. Still, Scorsese's tight direction and the
outstanding camerawork by Robert Richardson are invigorating, and
really put you in the front seat of the ambulance as Frank makes his
way through New York City.
As is now standard with Paramount releases, Bringing
Out the Dead is presented in its original aspect ratio
(2.35:1) and is anamorphically enhanced. This is a very good looking
picture, that is free of dust and scratches. The quality of this DVD
video perfectly complements Richardson's stunning cinematography.
Many of the brighter scenes have a luminous, neon-like quality to
them, and they come across nicely without ever looking artificial or
overly enhanced. There are a lot of evening shots for this movie,
making black level extremely critical. Again, the disc delivers with
deep, solid blacks that aren't at all marred by artifacting or
The 5.1 audio mix here is one of the subtler I've heard in a recent
DVD release. While it's never poor in quality, there are times when
I would have liked more use of the rear channels. These channels are
used mainly for the music track, with only occasional use for
effects. Dialogue is appropriately maintained in the center channel
and is always audible. Given that this is a mostly dialogue-driven
movie, it's hard to complain too much.
There are only a few features on this typically lightweight
Paramount disc. First are the theatrical trailers, and both are
widescreen with a 2.0 sound mix. And there's a 10-minute cast and
crew interview section. This seems like it could have been part of a
video EPK. The interviews we do get (Cage, Scorsese, and a few other
cast/crew members) are nice, but are all too brief to be
substantial. A commentary track with Scorsese or Robert Richardson
(who has won multiple awards for his work) would have been a nice
touch, but it's not to be.
From a technical standpoint, Bringing
Out the Dead is a very good movie. But after watching it,
I wished I had felt something other than exhilaration. Frank is
haunted by his ghosts, but I didn't really feel any sympathy for
him, nor could I empathize. Still, the movie is engaging and Rhames'
over-the-top performance is a must see. The film's technical
qualities come across very nicely on this DVD, making watching this
disc time well spent.