Wednesday, November 17, 2010

#103. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Directed By: Mike Figgis

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands

Trivia:  Nicolas Cage researched his character by binge drinking and visiting many hospitalized career alcoholics. Elisabeth Shue associated with prostitutes and interviewed them on the strip in Las Vegas

No matter how many times I watch Mike Figgis’ award-winning 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas, I always have the same reaction to it: this movie depresses the hell out of me! 

Nicolas Cage is Ben Sanderson, and Ben is an alcoholic. When Ben is laid off from his job, he packs up and moves to Las Vegas. We're led to believe there was a time when Ben had a normal life: a wife, a child, and a house in the suburbs. But we’re never quite sure how things played out. Does Ben drink because he lost his family, or did he lose his family as a result of his drinking? 

We don't know, and it doesn't really matter…not even to Ben. 

Once in Vegas, Ben meets a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue). Initially, Sera sees Ben as an easy mark, but the two eventually connect on a personal level, and before long are sharing an apartment together. 

It's an arrangement that is mutually beneficial. Living with Ben, Sera can steer clear of Yuri (Julian Sands), her abusive pimp / boyfriend. For his part, Ben finally has someone to talk to; even if he never remembers anything they might have said to one another. 

Both go into the relationship with their eyes open. Sera will not give up her profession; a high-priced call girl can bank a small fortune in Las Vegas. As for Ben, he makes it very clear that he will never put the bottle down, vowing to continue drinking until the day it finally kills him. 

Cage and Shue deliver masterful performances, and in the process make their pathetic characters seem a little less pathetic. Still, in spite of any compassion I may have felt towards them, and no matter how much I admire the movie, the nearly two hours I spent in the company of Ben Sanderson was more than enough, thank you very much. 

I know there are people out there like Ben, living bottle to bottle, and as true as that is, I also know the events depicted in Leaving Las Vegas are as close as I ever want to get to the Ben Sandersons of this world. Ben is more than an alcoholic. He ingests booze the way the rest of us take in oxygen. Self-destruction is one thing; Ben has moved beyond self-destruction to all-out self-loathing, and that's more difficult to watch than a drunk stumbling around, knocking over glasses.

Leaving Las Vegas is a tremendous film, but it is far from a joyous experience.


James Robert Smith said...

It is a great film. Neither Shue nor Cage has come anywhere close to creating that kind of a performance since this film.

I hear Figgis and Cage have reunited to make a new film.

Jake Moore AKA: @RiverCityOtter said...

"Leaving Las Vegas" One of the most powerful films I've seen in my lifetime. I agree with James both Cage & Shue hit acting pinnacle's with these roles! On a more personal note this film was a major motivating factor for my continuing sobriety(Plus 20-years). Tipping my cap to Mike Figgis & Nicholas Cage in aiding my cause Dave. The film is a downer for sure but works for me powerful filmmaking!