I know it's not cool, but anyone who knows me (or has read this blog at least twice) knows I have a totally irrational love for Nicolas Cage. I don't know what it is--his insanely rolling eyes, his slightly over-large teeth, his totally inexplicable and rapidly-worsening hair? Maybe it's the sense that he's probably a douchebag in real life...but one of those hilariously entertaining douchebags, the kind who are just self-aware enough to to be in on the joke of their douchebaggery. I really don't know, but I find him irresistible. Bringing Out the Dead is Nicolas Cage as I love him best--with echoes of the style of The Weatherman or Lord of War--a character who is calmly voicing-over totally chaotic events as they unravel around him, despite the fact that somewhere along the line he himself has gone mad.
In Bringing Out the Dead, he plays EMT Frank Pierce in events that span the course of three nights. Pierce is living in a strange nightmare life--existing on alcohol and coffee, almost never sleeping, literally haunted by the ghosts of people he couldn't save. He works at night with a variety of partners (played with gleeful abandon by John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore) who all have different ideas about "the job" and how to handle it. Frank's world is New York at night--all neon signs and traffic lights and tail-lights reflecting off wet pavement and going by too fast to distinguish--and the people he meets are all night people. However, at the beginning of the film (on the first night) he and his partner arrive to revive an elderly man who's had a heart attack, and Frank meets the man's daughter, Mary (played by Patricia Arquette with that hard-edged fragility that she's so good at [side note: she and Cage were married at the time this was made]). He keeps returning to her throughout the film as her father lies dying in the hospital and the world keeps unraveling around him.
It's definitely one of Cage's niche movies. It is not a "plot" movie; things happen, but it's not a "From A to B to get to C" kind of film. It's more a series of episodes, tied together by Frank's exhaustion and guilt stemming from a patient he lost and Mary's quiet strength. There's a lot of humor and also several very depressing parts. There's commentary on the inner-city health system, but but also the acknowledgement that everyone is doing the best they can (whatever that may be.)
I don't think I will ever want to watch Bringing Out the Dead again, but I'm glad that I watched it--it's an entertaining and thought provoking movie with some really excellent performances from a surprisingly star-studded cast. I do intend to get Joe Connelly's book (upon which the film is based) and will let you know how that is.