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Bringing Out the Dead

Throughout the years, director Martin Scorsese has brought an unmistakable sense of being to his films. From his gritty characters to the dark and nasty streets of New York, Scorsese has a tremendous gift of bringing life to everything that inhabits his tales. His most famous partner in crime, screenwriter Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull"), also shares that rare ability to transform the mundane and the ordinary into a living, breathing beast -- one almost universally in need of redemption at any and all costs.

In that vein, it should come as no surprise that Scorsese and Schrader's latest collaboration, the rough and jagged "Bringing Out the Dead," adds another page to the continuing struggle to overcome the world and all its ugly roadblocks. Nicolas Cage stars as ambulance driver Frank Pierce. Kind and exceptionally dedicated to helping his fellow man, Pierce's world begins to take a decided turn south when he fails to save a young woman. Haunted by his inability to stop the inevitable, he begins to see ghosts of the people who have died under his emergency care. What was once a powerful and driven man quickly becomes a beaten and paranoid façade of his former self. Things take an interesting turn, however, when he and his partner (John Goodman) come to the aid of a heart attack victim who has seemingly died -- only to come back from death. Frank strikes up a friendship with the man's daughter (Patricia Arquette) as she spends her time at the hospital waiting to see if her father will survive.

As is common in Scorsese's films, Frank finds himself living vicariously through the lives of the people he encounters. From Arquette's closet drug use to his maniacal co-worker's (Tom Sizemore) penchant for attacking addicts on the street, Frank inexplicably becomes entrenched in the goings on of people and places he has no business being with.

What we see is a man battling his own demons and mistaking them for the hurt and confusion of those around him. Rather than accept that life is mortal and that nobody can save the world from its collective self, Frank takes the weight of humanity on his shoulders and can't understand why he should be so ineffective in making a difference. Shrader's adaptation of Joe Connelly's novel does a stirring job of bringing the hell of inner-city New York to the viewer. Dealing with the worst scenarios imaginable, Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson ("JFK") find a way to capture the beauty and tragedy that Cage's Frank works within.

While comparisons to "Taxi Driver" are inevitable, one will hardly notice a parallel beyond the point that both Frank and "Driver"'s Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) both work among the lost and disenfranchised. Otherwise, the two are almost diametrically opposed. Bickle is a man lost and alone after serving in the Army; someone who doesn't know anyone and with the exception of Cybill Shepherd's Betsy, doesn't want to. Frank is a people person by definition. His desire for companionship is real and if he could simply get beyond the guilt that terrorizes his life, he seems perfectly happy to be among friends.

Though some may find the film's dizzying visuals and repetitive nature a bit of a turn-off, those familiar with Scorsese's previous work will likely not be disappointed. Nicolas Cage turns in a passionately anti-superstar performance -- ditching cool and GQ for everyman in trouble. With a host of great co-stars -- including Goodman, Sizemore and Ving Rhames -- "Bringing Out The Dead" is at times repulsive but more often than not captivating. Though "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" are tough acts to follow -- a feat some would argue is not even worth attempting --Scorsese and Schrader relive old times and bring a new warmth to an otherwise cold and cruel tale of life and death in the city.

* MPAA rating: R, for gritty, violent content, drug use and language.

'Bringing Out the Dead'

Nicolas Cage: Frank Pierce

Patricia Arquette: Mary Burke

John Goodman: Larry

Ving Rhames: Marcus

Tom Sizemore: Tom Walls Marc Anthony: Noel

Paramount Pictures and Touchstone Pictures present a Scott Rudin-Cappa/De Fina production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Martin Scorsese. Producers Scott Rudin, Barbara De Fina. Executive producers Adam Schroeder, Bruce S. Pustin. Screenplay Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Joe Connelly. Cinematographer Robert Richardson. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Costumes Rita Ryack. Music Elmer Bernstein. Production design Dante Ferretti. Art director Robert Guerra. Set decorators William F. Reynolds. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.