Two legendary forces in Nicolas Cage and Martin Scorsese join forces to deliver the highly underrated Bringing Out the Dead.
“I’d always had nightmares, but now the ghosts didn’t wait for me to sleep.”
Now that we’re deep into October and nearing Halloween I’ve been trying to think about which Cage movies would be best to watch in the spookiest month of the year. Horror is a genre that Cage hasn’t spent a whole lot of time in. He’s dabbled here and there but it’s slim pickings if you’re wanting to watch a horror movie in which he stars. One movie that does always come to mind is 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead.
Bringing Out the Dead certainly isn’t your standard horror movie and I’m sure many would say it’s not horror at all. In my opinion, it definitely is rooted in horror but I can understand why it may not be closely associated with the genre for others. Regardless of how the film is categorized, it will always be linked to Halloween in my mind for a very specific reason.
Back when DVD was the number one way people would watch movies at home the big box stores would get a large selection of horror movies that would specifically be sold in October for Halloween. Target and Wal-Mart would always have a pretty large portion of their Halloween section dedicated to these movies. For a couple years Bringing Out the Dead was a movie that would be in that section mixed amongst your horror standards. One year while looking through the Halloween section for new horror additions to my collection I finally decided to get Bringing Out the Dead and ever since it’s been part of my October viewing rotation.
In the film Cage stars as Frank Pierce, a Manhattan ambulance paramedic that works the graveyard shift. The job takes a massive toll on Frank as he’s constantly haunted by the patients he was unable to save. The film follows Frank as he tries to fight his demons and keep from losing his mind over the course of three particularly hectic nights.
I consider Bringing Out the Dead to be one of the most fascinating films in Cage’s career. If you read this column on a weekly basis you’ll understand that’s a pretty big deal because I consider all things Cage-related to be fascinating. The film has so many interesting elements that you can spot something new with each viewing.
Cage anchors what may very well be the strongest cast he’s ever worked with. Patricia Arquette, Cage’s then-wife, stars opposite Cage as the female lead and love interest. The supporting pieces are composed of John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore and Marc Anthony. There are even some wonderful cameos from the likes of Larry Fessenden and Queen Latifah.
It’s one thing to have a great cast. It’s an entirely other thing to have a great cast at the top of their game. Bringing Out the Dead has the latter. Every single performance in this movie is wonderful. Marc Anthony, who I’m guessing most people don’t even realize acts, is Oscar worthy.
As for Cage, this may be the single greatest example of what makes him so special as an actor. Frank has an incredibly difficult job but it’s one he’s very good at. The problem is that even if you’re very good at this particular job it can still result in the loss of life. Frank can do everything that he’s supposed to and sometimes that’s still not enough. How does one find happiness in that?
Frank is in many ways a sad, depressed character. He has these nightmares and hallucinations that are hitting him with more frequency. The job is visibly wearing him down and yet when he’s with a patient all of that goes out the window. He doesn’t have time to be sad. He has to do all that he can to save the patient. That’s his focus now.
Cage is able to hit all these layers with Frank. For good chunks of the film, he is sad, aimlessly wandering trying to find happiness. And then at the drop of a hat, he can switch gears, making it all look so effortless. I don’t think there are many actors that can portray a character with this sort of range at this level of perfection.
Despite the film being wonderful and earning critical praise, it was a major box office bomb. The budget was roughly $32 million and the film only managed to pull in half that. In its opening weekend, it debuted at a highly disappointing fourth place finish. The box office performance is all the more disappointing when you look back and realize that in 1999 Cage and Scorsese were one hell of a 1-2 punch.
At the same time, it’s not hard to see why the film didn’t appeal to general audiences. It’s a dark and depressing movie. There are some uplifting moments within it, but it’s all covered in gloomy haze. And it doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s just three nights in the life of a paramedic. How do you sell that to the average person?
It’s a shame so many people missed out on such a great movie. The good news is movies go well beyond their box office. Perhaps at some point, this one will gain a second life.
Bringing Out the Dead isn’t my favorite Nicolas Cage movie but it’s up there. If you’re one of those people that can’t understand why people like me love Nicolas Cage so much I would highly recommend you watch this movie. You may not like the film itself, but I can’t fathom anyone watching this movie and walking away unimpressed by Cage’s performance.
You don’t say?
Bringing Out the Dead was the last film to to be released on LaserDisc. Sadly it has never received a Blu-ray release and isn’t even that readily available on DVD these days.