Paul Schrader’s script included some shout-outs to his decades earlier work in Taxi Driver, but this was its own thing, based on Joe Connelly’s bleak novel, and looking at a particular lifetstyle we don’t see too often on screen. Nicolas Cage was electrifying here — it’s a truly bravura big-screen performance, filled with the customary manic energy, but a sadness that you can see peering out behind his tired eyes.
Robert Richardson’s scorching cinematography stressed reds, blacks, rain-slicked streets, and the various reflections of an entire city. It’s a literal slap in the face to Richardson as an artist that this film has yet to be given the Blu-ray treatment. The enormous supporting cast all put in stellar work — Patrica Arquette, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, Cliff Collins, Ving Rhames, Marc Anthony, and Mary Beth Hurt all provided extremely memorable performances. The phenomenal and eclectic soundtrack features songs from Van Morrison, The Clash, REM, UB40, The Who, Martha Reeves, and many more; I still listen to the CD on a regular basis. Fun fact: The voices of Scorsese (and Queen Latifah) can be heard as ambulance dispatchers all throughout the film.
I loved how this movie conveyed an incredibly frenetic atmosphere, shot through the prism of a man suffering from severe insomnia and intense personal demons; Cage’s work in this film is the definition of searing. And most crucially, the screenplay is peppered with brilliant bits of gallows humor, with the tone shifting often all throughout the dreamy, sometimes surreal narrative. Shrugged off by most critics (yes, it did find some passionate support) and ignored by audiences theatrically, this is one of the zippiest, most visually expressive films of Scorsese’s dynamic career, and it’s one to check out ASAP if it has snuck by you up until now.
Review by Nick Clement