Stream Bringing Out the Dead

Unceremoniously overlooked in its time, Scorsese’s grim and gallows-funny look at health care on the front lines is even more relevant 20 years later

<i>Bringing Out the Dead</i> is streaming, and Nicolas Cage is thrilled.

Bringing Out the Dead is streaming, and Nicolas Cage is thrilled.

I don’t remember Bringing Out the Dead resonating much when it hit theaters 20 years ago. Critics reacted coolly to Martin Scorsese’s 1999 paramedic psychodrama, audiences stayed away and the Oscars iced it.

Maybe expectations were too high. After all, this was Scorsese’s first and only pairing with Nicolas Cage, who was still Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage back then and not yet D-movie fiend Nicolas Cage. Cinephiles gushed that the film reunited the director with his Taxi Driver and Raging Bull screenwriter, Paul Schrader. Then the picture premiered and all that buzz flatlined.

As a devilishly charismatic drug dealer (a scene-stealing Cliff Curtis) puts it, that’s too bad.

Now available to stream on Amazon Prime, Bringing Out the Dead is ripe for resuscitation. Cage gives a moody, restrained performance as a burned-out EMT unraveling during a three-day odyssey through NYC’s squalid streets. His supporting cast is stellar, especially Ving Rhames as a born-again medic whose lechery wouldn’t survive the #MeToo era. Robert Richardson’s frenetic camerawork splashes the screen with maraschino-red sirens, Thelma Schoonmaker cuts scenes like a high-functioning speed freak and art director Dante Ferretti practically lets you smell the rank of the city. And no one beats Scorsese at hairpin music cues (his use of The Clash’s “Janie Jones” to augment a crackup driving scene is a personal fave).

This cinematic jolt of epinephrine stumbles whenever it resorts to the cliché trope of Cage’s character literally seeing the ghost of someone he couldn’t save. But Bringing Out the Dead is an otherwise live-wire look at the messy, unglamorous work of saving lives—and a bleak reminder of when to stop trying.