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- Woodcock, John
The film covers two days in the life of Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), a burned-out EMT (emergency medical technician) working the socio-economic underside of Manhattan. From the beginning, Frank is upset because recently all his patients have been dying on him, and he is haunted throughout by the hallucinated ghost of Rose, a young woman who collapsed on the street and died, apparently because he could not intubate her correctly.
Frank is highly stressed, he has no life outside his work, and he is self-medicating with alcohol. He tries to quit, but his boss keeps him on by promising time off in the future. In the film's first action, Frank does manage to miraculously resuscitate Mr. Burke, a heart-attack victim, but the patient winds up in the hospital with a very bad prognosis, so even that "saving" works against Frank.
Frank has encounters with numerous patients, many of them street people whose lives are out of control, some of whom are ER (Emergency Room) regulars, such as the demented young Noel (Marc Anthony). He also deals with (and is dealt with by) several highly idiosyncratic EMT partners in his ambulance rounds (John Goodman and others). Frank gets to know Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette), the daughter of the heart-attack victim, and they tentatively move toward being a couple who might help each other survive their lives.
Near the end, Frank, who knows Mr. Burke had tried to tear out his tubes during a brief moment of consciousness, and who feels he has been getting pleading messages from him to end his agonies, surreptitiously takes him off life support long enough for him to die. The physician who responds to the code decides not to attempt resuscitation of this patient who had already been resuscitated 14 times that day. Frank goes to tell Mary that her father has died (but not how), and exhaustedly falls asleep on her breast, apparently having forgiven himself because he has in some sense finally "saved" Mr. Burke.