Leaving Las Vegas
An Alcoholic whose wife leaves him who is sacked from his job finds love in Las Vegas with a Prostitute who falls for him at his very worst.
From the New York Times
Ben Sanderson, played devastatingly by Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas,” is something other than the usual movie drunk. Nothing about him offers golden opportunities to the good Samaritan. Already in the terminal stages of alcoholism as the film begins, Ben seems to sense his fate and want to face it in his own way, with crazy bravado and a whiff of desperate romance. This small, searing film watches transfixingly as Ben plays out his final hand.
As directed by Mike Figgis, who makes a long overdue return to the sultry intensity of his “Internal Affairs” and “Stormy Monday,” “Leaving Las Vegas” has the daring to suspend judgment about Ben’s downward spiral. This film simply works as a character study, pitilessly well observed and intimately familiar with its terrain. Mr. Figgis based his screenplay on a novel by John O’Brien, who committed suicide two weeks after learning that his book would be made into a movie. Mr. O’Brien’s father describes the novel as his son’s suicide note, which does not seem a farfetched claim.
But “Leaving Las Vegas” is far less dolorous than might be expected. Passionate and furiously alive, it is brightened by the same unlikely bonhomie that has long kept Ben afloat. First seen gaily loading up a shopping cart at the liquor store, Ben has a courtly charm that is as beguiling as it is erratic. He can move from high spirits to furniture-smashing rage in a matter of seconds, but he never has trouble getting attention.
The film begins with an exceptional bender, following Ben through the last gasps of his career in Los Angeles. He turns obnoxious in a restaurant, name-dropping about Dickie Gere and annoying the movie executives he meets. He tries to pick up a woman in a bar. (“You’ve been drinking all day,” remarks the woman, played by Valeria Golino. “But of course!” Ben replies.) He goes to a strip club, gets so drunk he can barely see the dancers and takes home a prostitute who steals his wedding ring. He wakes up on his kitchen floor, having passed out in front of an open refrigerator.
For Ben, this appears to have been an ordinary day.
Leaving Los Angeles after being fired from his job, Ben moves on to the city of the title, a very different place from the coarse, brassy setting for “Showgirls.” This Las Vegas is a neon apparition, beautifully evoked by otherworldly contrasts and lurid nocturnal light. (The cinematography is by Declan Quinn, whose work is as subtly distinctive as it was in “Vanya on 42d Street.”) And here he meets Sera, whose very name (as in “que sera”) suggests some kind of cosmic shrug. Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a Las Vegas prostitute, has somehow been waiting her whole life for a man like this.
As he did in his fine, fluid earlier films (before being sidetracked by the unaccountably listless “Mr. Jones” and “The Browning Version”), Mr. Figgis gives his narrative a musical dimension. A sometime musician who composed this film’s jazzy score, Mr. Figgis uses a haunting soundtrack (with several vocal numbers performed by Sting) to turn this into a sustained, moody reverie. Indeed, the film’s musical effectiveness minimizes some of its dramatic contrivance, especially where Sera is concerned. Ms. Shue gives a daring and affecting performance, but she’s essentially playing one more whore with a heart of gold.
The awkward device of letting Sera talk about herself on a therapist’s couch doesn’t give her much added depth, though her troubles with a sleazy Latvian pimp (Julian Sands, with a flamboyant accent) add some color. And the screenplay’s attempt to create an 11th-hour crisis for Sera seems false, too. For all Ms. Shue’s warmth, in the kind of gutsy, unflinching role that often goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Leaving Las Vegas” never rings entirely true as a bleak love story. Ben clings to Sera as a last straw, but he’s still a man alone.
Mr. Cage digs deep to find his character’s inner demons while also capturing the riotous energy of his outward charm. The film would seem vastly more sordid without his irrepressible good humor.
At the same time, without overworking the pathos of Ben’s situation, “Leaving Las Vegas” fully conveys the health risks of gulping vodka in the shower, crashing onto a glass coffee table or otherwise lurching through life with Ben’s particular abandon. A man who spends $500 for a prostitute’s hourlong visit to his $29 hotel room (with “complimentary bar of soap” and lucky aces over the headboard) is a man beyond caring about the future.
“Leaving Las Vegas” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes nudity, profanity, sexual situations, graphic language, overall raunchiness and an enormous amount of drinking.
LEAVING LAS VEGAS
Directed by Mike Figgis; written by Mr. Figgis, based on the novel by John O’Brien; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by John Smith; music by Mr. Figgis; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Lila Cazes and Annie Stewart; released by United Artists. Running time: 112 minutes. This film is rated R.
WITH: Nicolas Cage (Ben), Elisabeth Shue (Sera), Julian Sands (Yuri) and Valeria Golino (Terri)
So our [terminal and dying] traumatized Hero is working through being abandoned by his wife and losing his job but in the last stages of his life gives his all for a Prostitute who takes compassion on him and real love forms.
It is a Story of Real Love in a Real Place with Real and not imaginary people.
In Sickness and in Health
in Poverty and in Wealth
I will love you and stay ever by you for the rest of my days.
He has nothing but gains everything.
Till death to us part.
In the darkest place of Life admidst the despised, hated, marginalized low lifes of Las Vegas