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.
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.
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.
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.
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.