6 May 2003 | Abogenrief
In Bringing Out the Dead, Nicolas Cage plays Frank, a graveyard shift EMT technician in New York City in the early 1990s. In classic Scorsese style, the themes of masculinity, subcultural underground interaction, and fast paced film editing combine to form the frenetic basis of Frank's neo-noir lifestyle. The film is dark, urban, and also blackly comic, relying on strong masculine characters to provide energy and humor.
Overall, Bringing Out the Dead appears to be heavily influenced by film noir. Frank, the protagonist, is at the end of his rope in a rather solitary and stressful job and he often finds escape from the ghosts of his failures through alcohol. Patricia Arquette plays Mary, the femme fatale character and woman in distress Frank seeks to save. The film is uber-urban, set mainly in the nighttime ghettos and hustling districts of New York City, and the major events center around various city dwellers. Frank's adventures in life saving are highlighted by the colorful characters of City life, including prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless persons, insane persons, goth-punk death rockers and the ubiquitous 'Mr. O.,' the smelliest destitute to plague Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy Hospital. Frank is led by Mary into the narcotic underworld, and meets the proprietor of 'The Oasis,' a charismatic dealer with a passion for tropical fish and silk robes.
Many of the lighting techniques also serve to emphasize the urbanality of the surroundings, often combining music and fast paced editing. The darkness of the City night is contrasted with the searing halogen of the hospital, and the sunlight that creeps through the window at dawn mocks Frank's insomnia. Indeed, the movie ends at dawn, with Frank nodding off to sleep. This is very similar to the traditional horror movie ending at dawn when the nighttime monsters are relegated to their nocturnal lairs. Editing techniques are feverish and accelerate in pace as the movie progresses and Frank's hysteria mounts. Many of these sequences involve a montage of the flashing ambulance lights, 360-degree camera rotation, blurred traffic lights and shots of the crazed driver behind the wheel. My personal favorite scene is when Frank is going to answer a call, and the montage is set to R.E.M.'s What's the Frequency Kenneth.
Overall, most of the main characters are the male ambulance drivers/EMTs. These characters, Frank, Tom, Marcus and Larry, exude a kind of unquestioned masculinity, which they prove through various means such as violence, excessive flirting, and alcohol consumption. Tom is a violent, hair trigger macho who enjoys pummeling transients and minorities. Marcus is a smooth talking black man who chain smokes stogies and praises Jesus. Larry is an overweight everyman, wanting to start his own paramedic business. Frank is a Marlboro smoking altruistic cowboy with a drinking problem and insomnia. At some point, most of the characters engage in drinking (liquor) while on duty or at least in the ambulance. The characters names are also quite masculine, especially in contrast to Noel, a man who is a drug addict of ethnic descent that is never arguably fully a man.
Inherently, Scorsese's New York City is an urban jungle that will break any man who is not strong or tough enough.