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 find 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's laid off from his job, he decides the best thing to do is pack up and move to Las Vegas. At one time, Ben had a wife and child, and more than likely led a normal, middle-class life. We’re never quite sure of the actual course of events; is Ben drinking 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 Las Vegas, he meets a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue). Initially, Sera looks at Ben as little more than an easy mark, but soon, the two connect on a more personal level, and are sharing an apartment together. It's an arrangement that's mutually beneficial. Living with Ben, Sera's able to escape Yuri (Julian Sands), her pimp / boyfriend, who is abusive towards her. For his part, Ben finally has someone to talk to; even if he can't remember anything they might have said to one another. Both go into the relationship with their eyes wide open. Sera will not give up her life as a prostitute; a high-priced call girl can bank a small fortune in Las Vegas. For his part, Ben makes it very clear he will never put down the bottle, vowing to continue drinking until it finally kills him. 

Leaving Las Vegas is a tremendous film, due mostly to the excellent performances delivered by both Cage and Shue, who bring two pathetic individuals to life, and make them seem a bit less pathetic in the process. Still, in spite of any compassion I may have felt for these characters, and no matter how much I admire this movie, the nearly two hours I spent in the company of Ben Sanderson is more than enough, thank you very much. 

I know there are real people out there like Ben, living bottle to bottle, and as true as I know 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 just an alcoholic. He ingests booze the way the rest of us take in oxygen. Self-destruction is one thing; Ben's moved beyond self-destruction to all-out self-loathing, and that's ultimately much more difficult to watch than a drunk stumbling around, knocking over glasses.


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!