I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Bringing Out the Dead

tn_bringingoutthedeadBRINGING OUT THE DEAD is Martin Scorsese at his most nightmarish and hallucinogenic, a movie almost entirely in helicopters-overhead-paranoid-end-of-GOODFELLAS mode. That’s ’cause it’s about night shift EMT workers, which I think we can safely assume is probly a pretty stressful job. The movie is written by Paul Schrader based on one of those “this job is fucked and we’re all on drugs” type exposes, like Kitchen Confidential was for chefs.

Man of the hour Nic Cage plays Frank Pierce, who doesn’t get enough sleep and thinks he sees the ghosts of everyone he’s failed to save. He has a hard time feeling like a hero since most of the calls he gets are DOA or false alarms. He’s always doing CPR on dead babies or begging the hellishly overcrowded hospital to take in a vegetable. He’s so tired of bum-out cardiac arrests (“COME ON, PEOPLE!” he scolds) that he’s happy dealing with the notoriously foul-smelling drunk Mr. O, who calls in every time he’s wasted. The one time Frank does succeed in resuscitating a guy he feels guilty about it and imagines the man telling him to let him die.

mp_bringingoutthedeadThe story takes place over just a couple days as Cage gets through shifts partnered with John Goodman (more interested in getting food than taking calls), Ving Rhames (does religious sermons during CPR, calls everybody “young man,” sexually harasses a dispatcher voiced by Queen Latifah) or Tom Sizemore (total nutbag who beats up a patient and chases him around trying to “catch him” for fun. Seems pretty true to life). Frank also runs into some colorful characters like a suicidal lunatic (Mark Anthony of THE SUBSTITUTE) who he convinces to come in by telling him he’ll kill him back at the hospital, and Cliff Curtis (LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD) as a drug dealer who ends up impaled on a fence 16 stories up admiring the beauty of the sparks as the first responders try to saw him off. You know how that is.

Alot of it plays as very, very black comedy. You gotta laugh at the sight of Nic Cage in the passenger seat wearing an oxygen mask and explaining the cocktail of vitamins and adrenalin he’s cooked up to self-medicate with. Or when they flip the ambulance and crawl out laughing and Cage just leaves on foot, saying he quits. Every day he shows up late and tries to convince his boss to fire him for it, but no such luck.

Adding to the feverish feel is a bag of Scorsese tricks – sped up shots, closeups of Cage’s face as he flies down the streets, shots of city lights that make youre eyes glaze over just like his. There are some disturbing hallucinations (everybody on a block turning to look at him with the face of the homeless girl he failed to save; a snow scene shot with everybody moving backwards and then played in reverse). It’s show-offy but feels comprehensible and controlled, like a Jackson Pollock to Tony Scott’s monkey throwing feces.

It's no Vampire's Kiss, but there are definitely a few moments of the mega-acting
It’s no Vampire’s Kiss, but there are definitely a few moments of the mega-acting

What’s more, the subject matter is genuinely upsetting. The pulse checking, the shooting up, the dying babies, the shocking of dead bodies, the fact that you can understand why EMTs would be like this but then it’s terrifying to think that’s who you’re counting on. None of this is exactly baby ducks and cupcakes, in my opinion. This movie will fuck you up. I can’t help but think about it as I look out at my window where the EMT’s are checking on the drunk who always passes out on the same corner of the same parking lot. One of their long time customers – that can’t be a peaceful life. I wonder if we should start tipping those guys? You know, just as a nice gesture. Thanks for knowing CPR, guys, sorry about the night terrors.

When Latifah’s voice isn’t the dispatcher it’s Scorsese’s voice. And there’s something fitting about the director sending his characters on missions from inside the movie. (I wonder what would happen if the dispatcher went to a bar and got a drink from Mr. Woo who was in HARD BOILED?) Hearing Scorsese’s own voice reading jokey dialogue reminds you that this is an unusual Scorsese movie. But he’s not, you know, radioing it in. It’s a couple long nights in hell, and at the end you want to cry and take a nap.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 28th, 2010 at 3:23 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

60 Responses to “Bringing Out the Dead”

  1. Nice review Vern of a very good film. I remember a lukewarm response to this back in the day, but I always loved it, well, in a way you can only love a picture like and know what I fancy watching tonight.

  2. Love a picture like this even!

  3. Hey, unlike the majority of films Vern’s reviewed recently, I’ve actually seen this one! It’s a very good film actually, and I think it was underrated when it came out. I will warn you guys that it’s definitely not the film to see if you want a relaxing night in with a film, a bottle of wine and a nice young lady. It’s gritty and in many ways depressing; but it’s also fascinating, well-characterised and well-shot. Gets a solid recommendation from me, if you’re in the mood for this sort of thing.

  4. caruso_stalker217

    January 28th, 2010 at 6:05 am

    One of my favorite Scorsese pictures, a director I’m not particularly fond of. But this one is pretty goddamn funny… well, like most of the Scorsese pictures I’ve seen.

  5. I remember loving the crazy visuals but just not connecting with Nic Cage’s character. However his three
    co-drivers were fantastic, especially Tom Sizemore.

  6. I definately need to see this one again.

    I really only remember one scene when Scorsese plays The Clash’s “Janie Jones,” which at one point or another he claimed was the best British rock song.

    Food for thought.

  7. I’d guess that the lukewarm critical response to this film when it was released is in part due to the lack of a cathartic climactic moment, at least one that is familiar and transparent, where the protagonist learns a Valuable Lesson. Speaking for myself, I’m glad Scorsese kept the narrative loose; it really adds to the “waking nightmare” atmosphere.

    On a later viewing, I really appreciated the (unintentional) pre-Rudy Giuliani portrait of the city seen in the film, before large swathes of New York became a big box store theme park. It was also neat to remember that there was a time when Oscar Winner and Poor Crazy Bastard Nic Cage was just plain old Oscar Winner Nic Cage.

    After LOST HIGHWAY, I think this film best utilizes Patricia Arquette’s scary potential. Both her and Rhames give great performances in this one.

  8. Jareth,

    You don’t think that SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Nic Cage killing Arquette’s father at the end because he thinks it will bring him peace counts as a cathartic climactic moment? I’m not saying it’s a happy ending, but it’s a fairly clear and powerful resolution. You sort of make it sound as if the movie ends without a climax, and I don’t feel that was my experience of the film.

    Or am I misunderstanding your post?

  9. Dan Prestwich: I agree with your interpretation of the resolution of the film. And I agree that it’s pretty straightforward; I don’t actually consider Scorsese a particularly radical film maker. But it’s amazing how many people I’ve come across over the years who can’t seem to penetrate even the slightest trace of ambivalence in a film.

    For example, I like the dark, ambivalent ending to FULL METAL JACKET. But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people in the public preffered the similar but heavy-handed, manichaean ending of PLATOON.

  10. Jareth,

    Okay, I get your point now. Thank you for clarifying.

    It seems like the same kind of complaint the Coen Bros have run into with BARTON FINK, NO COUNTRY and SERIOUS MAN. Not so much the lack of a conclusion, but an unclear sense of how to FEEL about the conclusion.

    I can’t always blame people for finding that off-putting. A lot of movies, even challenging, complex ones, give some indications of what emotion they are trying to convey. So when a film ends on a note of ambivalence, the average movie goer maybe gets the feeling that the filmmaker doesn’t have a clear goal. It’s just the way that they’ve been trained to watch movies, because it’s the way most movies are.

  11. Such a good movie. Paul Schrader kinda had a point about it should have been a much younger guy and the soundtrack should’ve been more modern BUT then we would’ve been denied another glorious Cage performance.

  12. Speaking of Scorcese, Vern you need to be checking out Gomorrah sometime soon. Thats’s the Italian mob movie Scorsese “presented” last year. Very good stuff indeed.

    I’m not sure a final scene in a film has haunted me as much since Joe Pesci got beat to death with a baseball bat with his brother in that cornfield in Casino. *SPOILER*

  13. GOMORRAH was last year’s melon-scratcher for me in terms of the critical praise it received. It struck me as a bunch of gangster movie cliches strung together in a somewhat sloppy fashion; a series of scenes we’ve before in lots of other shows and movies, only not done as well.

    I guess a few of the less expected subplots (like the toxic waste management stuff) helps distinguish it a little bit. But mostly, I don’t know, I think audiences are better off watching GODFATHER or GOODFELLAS or CASINO if they want an exciting mafia story, THE WIRE if they want an in-depth look at a criminal organization, and SOPRANOS if they want generational mafia conflict and a meta-commentary about the influence of gangster movies on the mafia culture.

    dieselboy, I’m surprised to hear that the ending was so effective for you. Wasn’t obvious within their first 10 seconds of screentime exactly what was going to happen to those two morons?

  14. Dan, I try to be an understanding kind of guy, and I appreciate your perspective on the challenges faced by average movie viewers when confronted with difficult material. Lord knows we don’t need more film snobs in the world looking down their noses at Joe and Jane Public.

    Having said that, I’ve seen people express some wild reactions to films that didn’t give them the resolution they expected. If the audience that I saw A SERIOUS MAN with is any indication, there is a real appetite out there for familiar, formulaic film making, which wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t accompanied by such hostility. One guy in particular kept saying, “What’s the POINT? Get to the POINT!” throughout that screening. I heard another viewer comment afterwards that the film would have been better with voice-over narration.

    But hey, people go to films for different reasons. I just hope I don’t get in the line of fire when the crowd riots at the next Coen film I sit through.

  15. Jareth,

    I’m highly amused by the idea of seeing SERIOUS MAN with a vocal audience. It’s one thing to hear a “bitch get out the house, he’s gonna kill you!” when you go see HALLOWEEN II or something, but you don’t really expect to go see a Coen Bros movie and hear someone exclaim “I don’t understand your existential crisis!”

  16. SPOILER HEAVY

    Dan- Yes it was painfully obvious those two were headed down the wrong path. I think what really got to me though was the way it went down. It was completely realistic to me. There was no speech. No nothing. They were told to go look one way and behind them some nameless mobsters shoot them in the back. Their grand ideal of the mobster lifestyle is shown to be absolutely false. Poor kids didn’t even get to call anyone a cockaroach.

  17. Jareth – I think you’re totally right. General audiences do not want to be challenged by complex, ambivilant storytelling. The overwhelming success of Avatar is a testament to this fact. Hollywood knows this. They count on it. Avatar was another reminder of what people want from their movies. They want exciting visuals anchored by familiar stories. People actually feel ripped off by a movie if it requires them to think or decide for themselves how to feel about it. I would contend that had Avatar combined a complex, original narrative with it’s ,admittedly, great visuals it would have bombed with audiences. They would have felt overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all. Avatar is a thrill ride of a movie with solid, comfortable, easy to use seatbelt for audiences to hang on to.

  18. On Scorcese – I read on AICN that Martin’s next film may be a steampunk children’s tale about a boy building a robot while hiding in the Parisian catacombs beneath a train station. Part of me is pretty excited by the prospect of a Scorcese fantasy film. (I’m a big fan of this particular genre ala’ City of Lost Children, Where the Wild Things Are etc.). Another part of me worries that Scorcese is hoping to climb onto the digital 3-D gravy train with this film. I hope this is not the case. He is one of last and finest true nuts and bolts storytellers. While his contemporaries from the classic 1970s, including Coppola, Spielberg, Friedkin etc., have faded to varying degrees in recent years, Scorcese remains a vital filmmaker, still turning out relevant, engaging cinema. So, while I applaud this possible move into an entirely new genre for him I can only hope he remains true to his filmic roots.

  19. Just rewatched this one recently, and was surprised how much I liked it (I remember liking it when I saw it in the theater back when I was 17 but that’s no barometer to go by). It felt like I was on psychotropic mushrooms throughout the running time. It also has Scorsese’s typically good soundtrack, save the REM and Natalie Merchant songs. Blech.

  20. Hey speaking of challenging material (and also, uh, bringing out the dead), anyone here seen IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSAS? God damn, that film sort of caught me off gaurd and kicked my ass a little bit. A wild, funny, heartbreaking, nightmarish. But the audience I saw it with was not into the ending at all. SPOILER SPOILER I don’t think they were ready to accept the unexpected resolution of certain character arcs, which really toy with your expectations and even you loyalties in unexpectedly harsh ways. It had a pretty powerful affect on me, actually. But the audience turned on it pretty hard as soon as it took this turn, and left grumbling about the way they wanted to see it end. I should note, this is an audience which went to see a little-advertised Gilliam at a kind of arty theater outside DC. I would have hoped they of all people would be a little more opened to the unexpected (like Jareth’s SERIOUS MAN audience) but presumably the same ones who made THE BLIND SIDE play there for like 5 months.

  21. This is particularly true of contemporary animation – not to disparage Pixar, because they’re telling traditional stories and telling them well, but they are so inherently formulaic that it can actually become a little distancing at times. A few times here and there, they’ve struck on something new – like with Ratatouille and, maybe, The Incredibles or WALL-E – but they’ve played it very, very safe in both form and narrative.

  22. Mr. S – I can only assume that’s down to the Heath Ledger thing, it was pretty heavily promoted with him (and his replacements), so for the ‘fans’ out to see that I guess they felt short changed or lied to or whatever. I liked the ‘twist’ though, and it felt like it built up throughout the film rather than coming out of nowhere.

    As for the film as a whole, I liked it a lot, but I (perhaps this is just me) found all the imaginarium sequences to be the worst bits. Dr. Parnassus and the Devil, Parnassus’ travelling group riding around the streets of London in their fold out stage/house/carriage thing, his daughter and her own desire to get away etc. All that stuff I really liked and would have happily watched a film just about them trying to make a living and win over souls (although perhaps with a bit of a change to the kid, he was an annoying git and I could easily see why she would want Heath over him). I was especially suprised by Lily Cole, who I thought was pretty great. Though does make me hate her more – Cambridge student, model and now she can add competent actress to that? Fucksake man someone got an unfair share of talent.

  23. This is one of my favorite Scorsese films. It never gets any credit so It’s good to see it get a little love.

    I think visually speaking it might even be his best film. That snow scene is just haunting with the sides of meat hovering behind the corpse in the background.

    It’s also one of his funniest. RISE UP I B BANGING!!!

  24. Goodbadgroovy — I agree that the imaginarium sequences tended to be the weakest in the film. I sort of got the feeling that maybe Gilliam had a little too many toys to play with this time around, and got carried away with Tim-Burton-y zany art designs which were a little less imaginative than one might have hoped. However, I think the way the Colin Ferrel sequence progresses is amazing, going from a kind of shallow fantasy to a more realistic style and finally dissolving into a confusing nightmare. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie capture the terrifying feeling of an out-of-control dream more closely (see also: the end of BRAZIL). Which is why SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
    SPOILER, seriously, don’t read this is you haven’t seen it, it actually will ruin it for you.

    SPOILER
    I find it kind of hard to completely turn against him. Who can be held completely accountable for the way they act in a nightmare? After all, in some ways, it seems like he was genuine about trying to do the right thing (after all, he goes into the Imaginarium of his own free will) and it is whiny Anton (whose intentions are at least partially selfish, and whose glee at exposing his rival is apparent) who ruins everything for him. At the very least, it seems like Parnassas murders him in cold blood without much remorse, after seeing him act like a jerk in this crazy nightmare version of his life. Getting four of the worlds most charming and likeable actors to play the guy really puts you on his side, and you want to forgive him and expect him to reform.
    SPOILERS CONTINUE
    So the way it ends for him really shocked me and stuck with me. Its one of the bleakest endings for a character I can think of in the movies (William H Macy in FARGO may take the number one spot, but it’s up there). In fact, I left the theater trying to decide exactly what we’re supposed to think of Parnassas after this. It seems like Tony makes a good point about Mr Nick wanting Parnassas to make the wrong choice — but afterwords the film seems to accept the rightness of Tony’s fate and rewards Anton with a happily ever after. Which is pretty harsh, IMHO.

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ABOVE

    Anyway, I loved the film, loved it. The Imaginarium sequences are short and its not like they’re exactly bad, just not quite as strong. It’s a film only Gilliam could make, I think, and it really brings out his strengths. Remarkable visual poetry, distinct oddball humor, and a really dark, melancholy undertone which sticks with you. I suspect Mel will push it out of theaters by Friday, so everybody, get ye to a theater tomorrow to see it if you havnt’ yet.

  25. Darryll: Any friend of CITY OF LOST CHILDREN is a friend of mine. What do you think of the previews of Scorsese’s SHUTER ISLAND?

    Mr. Subtlety: Although not outright hostile like my SERIOUS MAN audience, the audience I saw PARNASSUS with definitely turned on the movie at the exact moment Gilliam started to reveal Tony’s fate. I can’t really say that the audience was into the film completely up to that point, but very few liked the ending; a lot of dissatisfied comments overheard on the way out, many of which seemed to express unease at the motivations of so many of the characters.

    You know, when I watched PARNASSUS I honestly had a hard time distinguishing between Ledger, Depp, Law and Farrell. They were all just Tony to me. After all the talk about the substitutions, it surprised me how, at the end of the day, it was the character that stood front and center.

    GoodBadGroovy: Lily Cole really knocked me out in PARNASSUS. Exceptional performance. And I give credit to Waits too for managing to convey wicked charm without the smarm. The temptation to over-act that role must have been strong.

  26. Darryll – Sounds interesting, but dammit I want SILENCE!

  27. Jareth – SHUTTER ISLAND looks fantastic. Pulpy goodness through and through. I really like leonardo nowadays and the casting of Ruffolo as his partner was inspired. He was excellent in ZODIAC.

    RRA – Looks like SILENCE is still a go. He’s got both films in pre production at the moment. I’ll bet SILENCE will go in front of a camera first since the writing/design phase for HUGO CABRET will take a while.

  28. Mr. S – Regarding the ending and Tony’s fate.

    SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER

    How could you stay on the guy’s side after they say he was harvesting the organs of third world children? (spoiler) Which I would assume kills them, I don’t think he was just taking a bit of bone marrow or a kidney here and there. Or did you think that was just a made up part of his dream world? Based off of where the story went after it, I just assumed that part must have been true but it just occurred to me that it’s open to interpretation.

    END SPOILERS

  29. Darryll – One thing kinda bothers me with SHUTTER ISLAND.

    There is this report out that Scorsese made a few cuts after that BNAT screening, and that gives me a pause.

    Scorsese knows how to make a goddamn movie. hell even his “popcorn” thriller CAPE FEAR was pretty good. So for him to possibly take suggestions from AICN of all fucking people…yeah, can you blame me?

  30. RRA: I’m also concerned that the SHUTTER ISLAND trailers, which I’ve been seeing for months now, give away too much. Not to mention, I’m not a fan of the author of the source material.

  31. Jareth- The thing about Shutter Island is that there are about fifty thousand directions the plot can go at any given point. I have no doubt that at some point you will guess the ending before the movie is over, but you will also probably leap to about fifteen other conclusions that the story seems to be pointing to before the real one reveals itself. I’m glad I’ve read the book so I can just enjoy the movie as it plays out instead of watching it cold and being to caught up trying to figure out the plot (it gets kind of crazy) to appreciate Scorsese’s control over story and storytelling.

  32. I didn’t know about the BNAT cuts. I still hold faith but it does give one pause. A lot of directors, though, will endorse the idea that when it comes to editing your movie, absolute ruthlessness is the only way to go. Getting all precious over one cut or another can mean death to the creative process. BNAT may have been the first time Scorcese watched SHUTTER ISLAND (he was there, wasn’t he?) with a general audience (granted, BNAT audiences are not your average audiences). He may have seen something during that screening that he didn’t see before and decided to make the cuts. That’s probably why he allowed it to screen so early. To look at it with fresh eyes. Besides, I doubt they were major cuts. Just a few frames here or there. Right? Right?

  33. I remember in his AICN review of SHUTTER ISLAND, Harry said that this was a “mostly complete” version that was being screened, so I’m pretty sure Scorsese always intended to tighten it up a bit and make a few changes after BNAT.

  34. Darryl, Carlos – Fair Enough.

  35. Shutter Island’s ending is a BIG problem. It didn’t really work in the book; it didn’t work in the script by Leata Kalogrides; and I suspect it is not working in the film either. The best description of it I’ve yet heard is that after the big shocking twist is revealed (which essentially invalidates everything you’ve just seen and makes less sense the more you think about it) is that you expect Rod Serling to suddenly step out from behind the bushes and start talking about how, truly, no man is an island–even a Shutter Island, in…The Twilight Zone!

  36. SHUTTER ISLAND is the only Dennis Lehane book I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy. His prose is as strong as always, but the plot mostly runs around in circles until the ending, which as CC indicates is a particularly bad one. It invalidates not only most of the story but most of the characters as well. And not to specifically drop a SPOILER, but if you think you’ve figured out the ending based on the trailer, you have. I guessed it just by reading the plot description on the back of the book.

    Still, I’m too intrigued by the idea of Scorsese dipping his toes into something close to a horror story not to see it. I want to know what he’ll do with that kind of atmosphere and imagery. Based on the trailer, it looks like he’s doing a pastiche of a lot of elements from classic horror films (like THE HAUNTING-esque spiral staircase that Leo is running up at one point) and pumping it up with his energetic style.

  37. Brendan: You make a good point. I was watching some Ingmar Bergman stuff recently and was really struck by how assured his directing is, how it instills in the viewer the certainty that you are in capable hands. On a good day Scorsese has that quality too; you know he’s capable of navigating the story.

    I’m interested to see what Max von Sydow and Ben Kingsley have to contribute to the material.

  38. Jareth- They are cast perfectly. Von Sydow’s character isn’t in it all that much (if they follow the book) but he has one of those characters that when the story is done, you feel like the author could retell the story from that character’s point of view and it would be a completely different story all together.

    The plot for Shutter Island is not that hot. I really enjoyed the book and it is obvious that Lehane was fully aware of all the movies and books that people are insisting he ripped off. The plot goes to some pretty crazy places BUT I have confidence in Scorses to deliver a great movie, especially after all the BNAT responses were “The plot is iffy, but the movie itself is excellent.” Exactly what I expected.

    Lehane requires a strange touch when adapting. You need to embrace either the jety-black angry, “What is wrong with the world today” side (ala Gone Baby Gone) or you need to just say “fuck it” and tell a crazy, fun, B-movie pulp story, which is what Scorsese seems to be doing. You can’t do both (sorry Clint).

  39. I haven’t seen this movie since it came out but one thing really struck me to this day. MTV did a story about the movie and said “and it features the film debut of Marc Anthony” and I’m like “Fuck you MTV, he was in The Substitute. Don’t act like that shit wasn’t the number one film in America when it came out.”

  40. Brendan – I haven’t read the book. Why do suppose Scorsese picked this story? What elements would have been attractive to a director like him?

  41. Daryll- Scorsese has said that the matireal reminds him of classic thrillers of the 50’s and 60’s (he always mentions some movie called the Red Shoes that I’ve never heard of but apparently is some kind of real mind fuck about ballerinas or something). Also, I imagine post-Oscar, he probably just wanted to have some fun and let ‘er rip with crazy twists and visuals. The story is sort of a smorgasboard of conspiracy theories/Holocaust flashbacks/fucked up dreams/mad science/Gothic horror/detective fiction. I’m sure Scorsese was just attracted to the idea of doing a straight up B-movie with A-List credentials.

  42. Scorsese is also a big admirer of Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING.

    Which was fucking great, btw.

  43. Much love for the Haunting. The fucking prologue gave me the creeps (the crazy lady on the spiral staircase, I mean, Jesus).

  44. Dr Mambo (great name, btw) —

    Ahoy matey, here be SPOILERS!
    yeah I guess I figured it’s a little ambiguous because it seems kind of incongruous with how Tony behaves for the rest of the film. I mean, he’s dishonest and manipulative but never seems like a murderer. He also seems like he pretty much comes clean to Anton in the second trip to the Imaginarium, regretting what he’s done and not mentioning anything about organ-snatching (putting the pieces together, I get the feeling thast maybe the mob-type guys who are after him were using his business for their nefarious organ-stealing plan. He knew they were bad guys but didn’t ask what they were up to because he needed their money. That seems consistent with both his character and his confession). He also seems to express remorse, admitting that he’s been a bad guy in the past but he’s trying to do the right thing now (and he certainly doesn’t have to go into the imaginarium, I think he really does it as an attempt to redeem himself). Finally, he tells Anton not to believe everything he reads in the papers, which casts some doubt on how accurate the information Anton reads really is.
    SPOILERS CONTINE!!
    Plus, fuck, he’s Heath Ledger so you want to believe him, and its strange to have a character who we hear is evil without really ever seeing him actually DO anything evil (he does hit Valentina, but again, in the context of a nightmare it might be kind of forgiveable). Anyway, I think its supposed to be at least kind of ambiguous how we’re meant to feel about Tony, and consequently how we feel about the way he meets his end. The way Anton undermines him also seems kind of ambiguous, given how threatened he is by the newcomer. If we’re really supposed to be rooting for Tony to be lynched, I think the movie does an inadequate job of convincing us that he’s irredeemably evil.

    SPOILERS ABOVE!

  45. Thanks for reviewing this one vern, I loved it when it I saw it in the theater and now I really want to see it again. I always thought I was the only one who liked it, glad to know that there are other people out there who enjoy it.

  46. Soooooooo–if you cut out the poorly-used-early-CGI-dead-chick character arc, this thing works great. Swear it. The Arquette arc works great. The seemingly main arc of the ‘one what got away’ dead gal dies a horrible death and if one were to simply take her away and permit the story to begin with the beginning and follow as it were…

    I’m just saying. Maybe the source material was wrong.

    Or maybe Marty was.

    It happens.

    But there is nice stuff here without the maudlin main arc.

  47. I think Scorsese and Schrader wanted to portray how all this shit was a never-ending loop for this guy in that sort of job. I mean its not like after the ending of TAXI DRIVER, that Robert DeNiro no longer picked up pimps, weirdos, guys wanting their wives murdered, and of course having to clean up the backseat repeatedly.

  48. This thread has become a spoiler minefield for at least three different films. Time to avert my gaze and back out of the room.

  49. But before I go, I’ll address the topic: I should see BOtT again. As is so often the case, Vern’s review has given me the desire to revisit the film. (Sometimes he gives me the desire to revisit films I haven’t even seen. How is that even possible? Must be sorcery he picked up in the joint.)

    I remember wanting to like it, hoping the lukewarm reviews were wrong, kinda liking it, but ultimately feeling that it didn’t quite click somehow. And then it mostly passed from my memory, which is a bad sign. But now I can’t remember what I didn’t like, aside from it being a bit too familiar coming from Scorsese at that point in his career.

    I do recall that Cage’s accent bugged me throughout the film. “It was the neighborhood I grew up in,” he says in a lazy SoCal drawl. Maybe I’m being picky, but that sort of thing is a great distraction, especially in a film so anchored in a specific time and place. Even odder is the fact that he did a passable Queens accent in KISS OF DEATH just a few years earlier. Maybe a little broad and hammy, but at least he tried in that one.

  50. frankbooth — I had a pretty similar reaction when I saw BotD… Liked it, but wanted to get into it more than I ultimately did. Stuff like the backwards-filmed dream is a cool idea but just never quite hit me on a gut level, which, sadly, is the way the whole thing felt for me. Good ideas, gamely executed, but something never quite gels and it ends up feeling surprisingly slight for such an intense attempt.

  51. a few scenes from this movie were shot on my block right in front of the apartment building i lived in at the time, so i could watch them shooting from my window. it was a block on the lower east side that was just on the cusp of massive gentrification, but it had not quite got there – though it was just one block away from the ludlow/orchard street gentrification lovefest, it was still mostly immigrants from the domincan republic and former soviet union living there, and it still looked really run down ( i guess i was part of the problem, but, fresh out of college and with little cash, how could i say no to a super cheap apartment – $375 a month! – in a great location?).

    anyway, i remember watching them shoot the scene where nic cage smashes the windshield with a baseball bat and being amused at seeing nic cage. if it was now, i would have been super excited to see him, but at that time i had already given up on him (this was of course post CITY OF ANGELS). so as it were, i was way more excited to catch a glimpse of scorsese. unfortunately, he stayed inside a van the whole time in front of the monitors and directed by walkie-talkie. when i asked a crew member they said that’s how he always did it. i remember being a bit disappointed, as i always felt that was a much more cold and impersonal way to direct, as opposed to being physically on the set and interacting with the actors directly.

    when i finally saw the movie when it came out, i was amused to see that they had used my block to try and show the rundown hellish nightmare-scape that apparently was hell’s kitchen in the 80’s. it was also to see that the scene where cage chases marc antony into some dingy little alley because in actuality that dingy little alley was also on my block but it was in fact the entrance to this newly opened and swanky yuppie-butt bar. movie magic!

    anyway, i had really been looking forward to the movie, being a huge fan of scorsese’s, and it being – at least in my mind – something of a spiritual sequel to TAXI DRIVER (scorsese and schrader teaming up on a movie about hellish new york). but ultimately i, too, had a lukewarm reaction to it. stylistically, i thought it was great, and i loved all the little flourishes. i loved the soundtrack and the look of the movie and the way it was shot and edited (i always think about that shot where the camera follows the van down the street, panning vertically 180 degrees until the shot is completely upside-down). i dug the overall atmosphere. i thought goodman and sizemore were great. i just felt that there were too many elements that didn’t quite click for me, story-wise. i always just kind of attributed it – possibly unfairly – to the source material, since i implicitly trust scorsese and schrader, but it was based on a book by an actual EMT worker, so how good of a writer could he be (again, probably not fair, but i couldn’t help thinking that – ot that he couldn’t be a good writer just cause he was a former EMT worker, but just cause he had never written anything before). also, i fond arquette’s performance to be not very good (as i often find with her), and i thought Ethnic Everyman (TM) cliff curtis’ performance was distracting. what the hell kind of accent was he trying to do?? some kind of weird black-american/jamaican deal (it’s been a while since i’ve seen it)???

    as an aside, i often find cliff curtis distracting in movies. it’s funny how he’s this maori guy from new zealand, but hollywood has basically cast him as just about every non-white ethnicity that there is on the planet other than maori (in fairness, there probably aren’t too many maori characters in hollywood movies). i have seen him play arab (several times), iraqi, black (!), mexican, and several varieties of south american, to name a few. i usually admire his effort, but rarely actually like his performance, THREE KINGS being probably the only time i really liked him in a movie (i haven’t seen WHALE RIDER or ONCE WERE WARRIORS, but i suspect he is more tolerable playing kiwi parts). he is sometimes convincing in his ethnic role (THREE KINGS) and sometimes horribly distracting (BOtD, TRAINING DAY).

    okay, end cliff curtis rant.

    in summation, not having seen BOtD since it came out, thanks to this review i have now had the desire to re-watch it finally rekindled. ooh, i just remembered i can but it on VHS for 50 cents at my local video shop! i shall be watching it soon…

  52. too many typos in my post to point out here. hopefully you all could follow it.

  53. also, i only skimmed a lot of the posts on this thread because of spoiler minefield, so i think i may have repeated what others said more eloquently. okay, that’s my last caveat.

  54. Virgin Gary: Have you actually seen CITY OF ANGELS? I’ve always wondered if that one is as awful as it looked. Was it an actual remake of WINGS OF DESIRE or did it just borrow heavily from the concept?

    And I think ONCE WERE WARRIORS is really good. One of the most uncompromising depictions of alcoholism that I’ve seen. It’s my understanding that the film out-grossed JURASSIC PARK in New Zealand. Cliff Curtis wasn’t a big part of the film.

  55. no, i never saw CITY OF ANGELS. it just seemed like the kind of movie i should avoid like the plague. at the time, i was opposed to it on mere principal (hollywood remake of WINGS OF DESIRE) and then when i saw the trailers i was quite certain i would never willingly watch it. yeah, i think it was less a remake and more inspired by and using a similar premise. in any case, that was maybe the first movie of nic cage’s middle, fallen-from-grace period, wherein he starred in so many awful looking movies (CITY OF ANGELS, THE FAMILY MAN) and even when he starred in an interesting-looking project, like this one, his performances often lacked the exciting edge of his earlier work (there are exceptions though: FACE/OFF and SNAKE EYES, for example), so that it became very hard to get excited about him starring in any movie. but then of course was his quasi-return to grace in recent years, with just enough interesting and/or great performances to keep me as a fan (ADAPTATION, MTACHSTICK MEN, THE WEATHER MAN, BL: PoCNO, KICK-ASS), while still making tons of horrible-looking garabage (NATIONAL TREASURE, NEXT, BANGKOK DANGEROUS, GHOST RIDER, etc. etc.).

    i just looked up cliff curtis on IMDb and apparently he was in THE PIANO, but i don’t remember him in it (i didn’t know who he was when i saw it, and i saw it so long ago that i don’t remember the details of it clearly, but i liked it).

  56. Virgin Gary: The only reason I asked about CITY OF ANGELS is because apparently Dennis Franz is in there somewhere. I’d have forgotten the existence of this movie entirely if not for that weird bit of casting. I imagine Franz playing Damiel and going all Mamet on someone’s ass.

    I saw BANGKOK DANGEROUS in a hotel in Havana recently. It really wasn’t that bad, certainly no worse that LORD OF WAR and probably better than NATIONAL TREASURE. Maybe I’m being generous because it was the only thing on tv at the time. But at least Cage got the Pang Brothers for the remake.

  57. GREAT MOVIE! Thanks for the review of a great film! As a public servant, I’ve worked night shift for over three years and have seen my share of horrible crime scenes. As such, this movie really struck a chord for me. Wow, thanks for the great work Vern! Long live Seagal!

  58. I really liked this when I first saw it. The first hour is one of the best representations of insomnia that I can remember.

  59. Finally caught it on TV today. It’s an absolutely devastating movie, but entertaining from the beginning to the end. It’s like I always say: “Just because it is a serious drama, that will depress the shit out of its audience, it doesn’t mean it can’t entertain them at the same time.”
    It felt like SCRUBS*, but played as an HBO drama. I’m not a Scorcese expert (relax, I’m catching up with his body of work), but I would put it among his best.

    *which has constantly been praised by real doctors for its realistic portrayal of hospital life. Something that scares the shit out of me, btw.

  60. Seen this one on Netflix Streaming lately, and I liked it better than the first time I saw it. “Don’t make me take off my sunglasses” might be one of my favorite movie lines of all time.

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