Leaving Las Vegas tells the tragic story of Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage), a once-powerful movie executive who is fired from his job and ends up moving to Las Vegas. Ben is painfully and obviously an alcoholic; drinking, quite literally, consumes his life. We get a glimpse of the demons in Ben's past from time to time, but by the time the film begins, Ben is already too far gone to be remotely curable. Alcohol has become his reason for existence.
In Vegas, Ben resigns to drink himself to death, burning his severance pay to the tune of $200 to $300 a day on liquor and the occasional prostitute, one of whom turns out to be his alter-ego, Sera (Elisabeth Shue). They both share a common bond of misery and loneliness, and soon develop a rich closeness that can nearly be described as love. Sera is deeply committed to Ben, and vows to accept him as he is--drunk or not. Her devotion even leads her to buy him a flask for his poison, while inside, she is desperate to find some way to help him sober up. Inevitably, the couple spirals downward to the film's tragic conclusion. We know all will never be well.
Cage's masterful performance is matched by superb direction by Mike Figgis (who also wrote the screenplay and the jazzy music for the film), and Shue admirably sheds her Adventures in Babysitting goody-two-shoes look. While some of the plot elements are confusing (including a bit about Sera's Russian pimp, played by Julian Sands) and the film drags at times, the movie is very haunting without becoming overly graphic, a delicate line that the filmmakers have successfully walked. Like I said, this isn't your everyday crowd pleaser, but if you're looking for a thoughtful drama, Leaving Las Vegas is one of the best bets of the year.
The true power of this film lies in its exploration of the themes of acceptance, resignation, and despair. Based on John O'Brien's autobiographical 1991 novel, the realism in the movie is simply unparalleled, maintaining an accessibility that lets us all relate. In an ironic twist of events, O'Brien actually committed suicide in 1994, a mere two weeks after the film rights were sold. He never got to see his vision realized on the screen, and he probably never needed to, but his legacy leaves a lesson we could all stand to learn.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th February 1996
Box Office Worldwide: $49.8M
Distributed by: United Artists
Production compaines: Intial Productions, United Artists
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 42 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Mike Figgis
Producer: Lila Cazés
Screenwriter: Mike Figgis
Starring: Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson, Elisabeth Shue as Sera, Julian Sands as Yuri, Richard Lewis as Peter, Steven Weber as Marc Nussbaum, Kim Adams as Sheila, Emily Procter as Debbie, Stuart Regen as Man At Bar, Valeria Golino as Terri, Graham Beckel as L.A. Bartender, Mariska Hargitay as Hooker at bar, Laurie Metcalf as Landlady
Also starring: Mike Figgis
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