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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 25.42%
Average: 3.39%
Pretty Bad: 5.08%
Total Crap: 8.47%

3 reviews, 41 user ratings

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Leaving Las Vegas
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by Dr. Isaksson

"Emptiness and Isolation are pouring from a bottle of Vodka."
5 stars

Director Mike Figgis is known for his willingness to take chances. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. But here in his 1995 film, "Leaving Las Vegas" based on the novel by John O'Brien, Figgis takes the typical unstable man/woman relationship and turns it on it's head. Similar stories that revolve around alcoholism, loneliness, depression and suicidal tendencies usually give us that 'rough slice of reality' kind of film. A harsh jab of real life hell, circling around people who have lost their way. But "Leaving Las Vegas" somehow stands firmly separate. It forces us to see things in a different light. It shows us a story of how two people come together in the most unusual of circumstances and yet no matter how strong their love might (or could) be, things cannot end 'happily ever after'...

Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage) wants to die. Right from the beginning of the film we are aware that Ben is in trouble. He is a raging alcoholic. His performance as a Hollywood screenwriter has been on a downward spiral because of his increasing drunkenness. Ben has become a gibbering, incoherent mess and it isn't long before he is finally 'let go.' Though he expected it, it seems to be the final blow that sends him reeling. Armed with a hearty severance check, Ben's choice becomes clear. He's going to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. With nothing but a suitcase of clothes and his car, Ben arrives in Vegas where he quickly finds himself a motel room. Now it's just a matter of time.

While driving along the swirling mass of lights in Vegas, Ben nearly slams into a beautiful blonde hooker. This first encounter is a short one but after a second chance meeting, Ben asks her for a night at his motel room. This woman's name is Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and she takes Ben up on his offer. They spend the night together but instead of having sex, Sera and Ben drink and talk till dawn. Sera finds in Ben something she had never experienced from any of her other customers. Someone who will listen to her. It is very much her loneliness which suddenly entwines her emotions to this man, who has lost all hope, and makes her instantly care for him.

Sera's life before Ben consisted of hooking for her pimp Yuri (Julian Sands). The two share a volatile relationship where Yuri is the dominator and Sera is the masochist. Although he slaps her around, Sera has a desperate attachment to Yuri and when trouble eventually catches up to him and strikes him down, Sera is drawn even closer back to the arms of Ben. On Ben's request the two share a meaningful and almost humourous night out at a resturant talking about themselves over a spaghetti dinner. It is here that Sera learns more about Ben's past. Despite his addiction, she is enamored by the honesty Ben presents. It isn't long before he is persuaded to move into Sera's condo, much to the unease of her landlady. (Wonderfully played to the hilt by Laurie Metcalf.)

For the next few days the couple share some touching moments together but Ben continues to tell Sera that true love between them could never happen and that, of all things, she must never ask him to stop drinking. After what only seems like a few days of happiness in each other's company, Ben is seized one morning by violent DTs. He counteracts them with even more alcohol. Days pass and while nothing seems to get worse, in Sera's mind, nothing seems to be moving forward. They spend some meaningful moments together shopping at the mall and staying at a desert resort but Sera can see that Ben is becoming more and more incoherent. In a last ditch attempt at attaining some sort of security for herself, Sera prepares a meal for both she and Ben, hoping he will eat something. It's during dinner that she suggests to him quietly that 'Maybe he should see a doctor.'(A desperate attempt on her part to perhaps save him from certain death which she, as well as we, can see is becoming imminent.) He refuses her plea and Sera breaks down into tears, finally realizing that things between the two of them can never be what she had hoped for.

A few nights later, Sera comes home to find Ben underneath some stranger brunette hooker. This is the last straw, Sera knows that her hopes concerning Ben are useless and she tells him to get out. Days pass and Sera looses contact with Ben. She spends her nights walking the streets hoping to find him but after a dangerous encounter with some young male customers, Sera comes to the conclusion that she must find him. A few more days pass until surprisingly, she receives a call. It's Ben and Sera immediately goes to where he is staying. When she finds him she discovers (as do we) how bleak the situation has become. Ben has nearly reached his ultimate goal, death. The final scene that the two share together in a dark, filthy motel room rank as some of the most heartbreaking moments I have ever seen brought to film.

Mike Figgis has directed Leaving Las Vegas with a determined hand. He shows us the glitz of Vegas and the solemn sadness inside a few of the people that live there. With his camera work, Figgis knows when to move the camera in on his characters and when to pull it back. His visual style is never dull and on the same token, it never beats you over the head with overblown film tricks. I've noticed that in films when the story asks for a big emotional moment, the scene will be edited with extra fervor. The music will reach a cresendo, amping up the scene to reach a maximum intensity. Although it's not a bad thing, amazingly, Mike Figgis doesn't go for this. He is content to let his characters fill in the silence on the merit of their voices alone. And the music never hits a high note when emotions run high. However, when he does use the camera and sound to enhance a scene, he handles it in a totally unique and fascinating way.

One scene in particular stands out as a brilliant example of his directing abilities. It occurs when Ben and Sera are enjoying a night out gambling. Seated at the table, they are laughing and having a good time in each others company. Only the camera shot is showing them from a distance. It's almost as if we are watching them from a surveillance camera. Suddenly a waitress approaches Ben and a few words are exchanged between the two. What she says to him we cannot hear but Ben becomes enraged and overturns the table. He is dragged out of the casino screaming but the camera shot remains elusive. Why? After some thought, I concluded that perhaps Mike Figgis, with this camera technique, wanted us to feel for ourselves what it's like to be so plastered that you're oblivious to your own sayings and actions. That is up until the next morning when you try to piece together what had happened with the foggy recollections you have. Sera is there however, to let Ben know just what he had done and why. But it's the great Direction that captured the chaos inside of Ben and then kept we the viewers, and even Ben, in an alcoholic haze until we all learned what happened the next morning. Just one of many amazing scenes.

Nicolas Cage received the well deserved Oscar for best actor for Leaving Las Vegas. Cage portrays Ben with a crushing mix of honesty and silly, drunken glee. His glassy eyed face never falters and his presence was always commanding and fascinating. The same can be said for Elisabeth Shue who portrays Sera with a heartwrenching combination of insecurity, loneliness and tenderness. Her face at times looks harsh and wind burnt, but then suddenly, when she feels loved, her face softens. We see a woman who has let her guard down. Shue's Best Actress loss at the Academy Awards was an outrage.

The first time I saw Leaving Las Vegas was at the theater. That atmosphere made the film come across as shocking and scary. But watching it again at home years later, it made me cry. I now understand why it has made such a lasting impression on me. Leaving Las Vegas never comes off as if it were created only to 'shock' or to 'provoke'. Yet, back then, I clearly WAS shaken up. I was silenced by the devastating emotional and physical impact it made on me. Then after the smoke cleared and years passed between viewings, I was able to grasp the deep love this film offered. It may sound odd to say 'love' but I honestly felt that Sera had gained respect for herself by being able to love Ben. It seems as though this was the first time she had been able to love anybody.

I marveled at how stubbornly original this film is. Easily, Leaving Las Vegas could have come off as showy and even campy. Certainly the dialogue at times could have lessened the seriousness of the film's situation. But Mike Figgis knew exactly how to tell the story of Ben and Sera. His brilliant vision remains true and beautiful throughout. The music for the film, (some of which was composed by Mike Figgis) is a smooth hybrid of swing jazz compositions and a handful of songs sung by Sting. This score sets a solemn, yet sweet, tone that matches the film's ambiance perfectly.

To sum it all up. This is the story of a man named Ben, whose soul is broken. He has let himself sink into nothingness. It's a story about a woman, who has let her heart become trampled on and is living on automatic pilot. But in an instant, on the streets of Vegas, she finds hope in a man whose eyes cannot judge her, whose words do not hurt her, whose hands will not beat her. He accepts her. And to Ben's surprise he found what he was searching for as well.... An Angel.... Only he found his Guardian Angel too late....

Or perhaps just in time.

Beautifully original and unflinchingly honest from beginning to end. **** 1/2 Stars

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originally posted: 06/24/02 05:40:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/16/10 photodog sublimely powerful film, a beautifully realized tone-poem Not for everyone! 5 stars
8/01/09 Charles Clifford is not necessarily fair and balanced but does provide a view of life we seldom contemplate 4 stars
11/06/08 L. Gary Brutally honest, totally unforgiving, and well executed portrayals. 4 stars
10/13/08 Shaun Wallner Boring!! 1 stars
2/12/08 Monday Morning Saw this in '96 and quit drinking the next day. That's a powerful movie. 5 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Good direction but wow...Elizabeth Shue is a breathtakingly bad actress. 2 stars
2/27/07 The Rushmaster nicolas Cage you are a genious of an actor, this film should have given you academy awards 5 stars
8/31/06 Sepi53 dark, sad movie 3 stars
4/08/06 Indrid Cold I was hoping for more profundity, but still a satisfying, affecting story. 4 stars
3/26/06 Monster W. Kung One of the ten worst movies ever made. 1 stars
7/07/05 Cedric Elisabeth Shue. *drools* 5 stars
6/12/05 R.W. Welch Not a grabber but acting is impressive. (Do not watch while contemplating suicide.) 4 stars
5/30/05 Verbal Kint The greatest trick that Nolte ever pulled was convincing the world that he was Nic Cage! 5 stars
2/19/05 Captain Craig Im boycotting all Nick Nolte films for making me suffer the film with no redeaming value! 1 stars
2/14/05 Angolmois Horribly overrated Hollywood schmaltz. Cage is a ham, Shue is just OK. 2 stars
11/21/04 Pissed off Hey EFC, love the review-I especially liked the part where u gave away the ending. Fker. 1 stars
9/27/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Largely depends on your patience for over-reaching Nic; mostly a downer 2 stars
9/16/04 Louis Lokossou I really love that movie, indeed.It raises about real life trouble.... 4 stars
8/22/04 Peter James Cage most definetly deserved the Oscar 5 stars
6/21/04 milehigh Amazing 5 stars
6/14/04 MyGreenBed Sloppy filmmaking, fantastic performance by Cage, unnessecary rape scene. 4 stars
2/25/04 Dingleburt HamsterPink Feel good film of the decade 5 stars
1/30/04 Elena Pretty amazing in conveying alcoholism and prostitution. Slighty slow at times. 4 stars
12/14/03 Image15 Nicolas Cage's best role to date...Shue works well too 5 stars
12/11/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) Really powerfully directed. Cast is kick-ass. Rape scene makes me not wanna shit 4 a week. 5 stars
5/08/03 Andrew Carden Knockout Performances By Cage & Shue Are Worth Watching. Great Direction. 5 stars
3/19/03 Monster W. Kung Depressing, boring, pointless. What a combination. 1 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones I need a beer. Great film. 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock One of the absolute best. Cage and Shue have never been better. Figgis either. 5 stars
8/25/02 movie guy great 5 stars
6/04/02 zotteLORRE a lonely movie with very lonely characters 5 stars
5/25/02 Butterbean A very fucked up and touching movie 4 stars
3/02/02 Alan Smithee Very dark and sometimes difficult to watch, it's still a great film. 5 stars
10/30/01 Shams Huque Superb performances. Very grim though. 5 stars
10/27/01 Clint "The Degenerate" Peterman I like "Leaving Yazoo City" better. Beh!!! 5 stars
8/02/01 INCUBATOR . 5 stars
7/26/01 Judith Latham Beatiful and dark. It will leave you moved. Cage and Shue are beyond belief good. 5 stars
6/28/01 Steve Shopping for hard liquor. Drinking hard liquor while driving. So? I do this everyday 5 stars
2/19/01 doingtimein419 actually one of my favorite movies...and yeah, it's depressing as hell. 5 stars
7/12/00 Daren Redmond Grim, Grim, Grim but ok! Why am I the first "rater"? 3 stars
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  27-Oct-1995 (R)



Directed by
  Mike Figgis

Written by
  Mike Figgis

  Nicolas Cage
  Elisabeth Shue
  Julian Sands
  Richard Lewis
  Steven Weber
  Valeria Golino

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