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Saturday, October 23, 1999 Published at 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK

Scorsese's still a winner

Scorsese with stars Patricia Arquette and Nicolas Cage

By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Reviews of Martin Scorsese's new film have been respectful and stolid, but they lack the undiluted enthusiasm that once greeted his work.

Once again, the question of whether or not one of American cinema's distinctive talents has lost his touch is being asked.

Bringing Out the Dead stars Nicolas Cage as Frank Pierce, a burnt out New York ambulance man on the verge of a spiritual collapse.

[ image: Paramedic at the end of the line: Nicolas Cage]
Paramedic at the end of the line: Nicolas Cage
It follows the insomniac Pierce through 56 hours, chronicling his harrowing encounters with the human detritus of nocturnal New York City in the early 1990s.

It re-teams Scorsese with screenwriter Paul Schrader, his previous collaborator on such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

The leading entertainment industry paper Variety hase already implied that Bringing Out the Dead is a less than original work that critics will perceive as Taxi Driver a generation later.

Some reviewers have been less kind describing the film as hollow and disappointing, indicating that Scorsese is just revisiting old territory.

Cage admits "there will probably be some similarities to Taxi Driver," in which Robert De Niro played the psychotic and violent Travis Bickle.

[ image: Old master: Scorsese remain's one of cinema's greats]
Old master: Scorsese remain's one of cinema's greats
But Scorsese told me the resemblance to Taxi Driver is only on the surface, because his new film also happens to focus on "a man at night in New York in a tough neighbourhood, driving a vehicle the public deals with".

Scorsese emerged as one of the leading figures of the so-called New Hollywood filmmaking movement in the 1970s, along Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman and Brian De Palma.

They were anointed as the auteur filmmakers of their generation - and it has become fashionable to lump them together and decry their recent lack of critical and commercial success.

When any one of them makes a new picture it is constantly measured against their triumphs from the 1970s.

Scorsese is well aware of the endless comparisons with his earlier works. "Yeah, that's what happens," explains the director with an air of resignation. But he definitely wants people to be engaged by his new work. " I hope they like it, that's all," he says.

[ image: Life support: Patricia Arquette tries to comfort Cage in the film]
Life support: Patricia Arquette tries to comfort Cage in the film
Some filmgoers may not like Bringing Out the Dead, because it's demanding to watch, has a disjointed structure and doesn't come with a typical feel good Hollywood happy ending.

It is also a non-zeitgeist film, because it takes audiences back, somewhat reluctantly, to more uncomfortable times in New York early in the 1990s when the city was more crime-ridden, and less outwardly happy, prosperous and sanitised than it appears today.

But Bringing Out the Dead is still a very strong film that outshines most contemporary Hollywood productions in that it is visceral, real and, like nearly all Scorsese's work, not afraid to explore the deeper aspects of the human condition.

Nicolas Cage really adds weight to this film with a strong portrayal of a character who is manic but not without compassion.

[ image: A walk on the dark side: Bringing Out the Dead]
A walk on the dark side: Bringing Out the Dead
Cage told me he was drawn in by the ambulance man he plays with "his grandiose visions of himself wanting to save lives as though he had some super power to heal, and the conflict he feels when he's not able to save lives."

Scorsese will turn 57 next month, but Bringing Out the Dead is proof that, despite what some naysayers claim, he's still very much in command of his talents in a business where directing remains a young person's game.

His latest picture may not represent a defining moment in his career, but Scorsese has once again demonstrated that he can still take us into the darker recesses of the human psyche and combine sound, music and dialogue with frantic pacing to deliver cinema that is electric and unforgettable.

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