Mike Figgis has had a slew of semi- successful films such as The Loss of Sexual Innocence and Cold Creek Manor, but Leaving Las Vegas is definitely his magnum opus. The screenplay is based off a best-selling novel by John O’Brien. Unfortunately, John O-Brien committed suicide only two weeks after the beginning production of the film. This is a very sad fact, but it definitely stays within the moody realm of the film.
This movie is very 90’s. The jazz music playing throughout is a little annoying, but it definitely gives it a 90’s film noir feel. Director Mike Figgis composed the score for the film, even playing some instruments for the soundtrack. I just wish this aspect was toned down a little bit. The story and outstanding performances speak for themselves.
The story is told through the eyes of prostitute Sera (played by Elsabeth Shue), speaking to her therapist about her love affair with Ben (played by Nicolas Cage). Ben is an alcoholic screenwriter on the verge of losing it all. He pushes everyone away with his addiction. Really, he is just a major dick. His friends and family don’t want contact with him. He really must want to kill himself with how much he consumes, it’s unreal.
Sometimes Nicolas Cage’s performances can be considered flat or one note, but this is one of those films where he proves everyone wrong. He really dug deep for this role, even filming himself drunk in real life to study his mannerisms and speech patterns. Both actors immersed themselves into these roles – Cage’s use of binge-drinking and Shue talking to real prostitutes on the strip. In a way, Cage’s character reminds me of the one he plays in the film, Adaptation. Both characters are conflicted writers with internal issues on the verge of a mental breakdown. But in this case, Ben is giving into his struggle whole-heartedly.
With no job, no family, and no friends, Ben moves to Las Vegas. This is where he meets the stunning Sera. Sera does what she needs to do to survive. She becomes whatever the men want her to be. But surprising even herself, Sera bonds with Ben on their first night together (which does not include sex). Their connection is undeniable and Sera eventually asks Ben to stay with her. But Ben has other plans. He came here to drink himself to death, selling everything he owns. As long as she understands this and doesn’t ask him to stop, he will stay with her. They accept each other, major flaws and all. Maybe she is his angel, his savior. She feels herself around him. And maybe he is supposed to save her too. Or this is what we hope, at least.
Everyone talks about how shockingly sad this film is. I mean, it is very depressing, but I’ve seen worse. I’m assuming this was a pretty mainstream film when it was released due to the all-star cast, so maybe that’s where the shock factor comes in – the fact that it is so disheartening and nonconformist compared to your typically optimistic, happy-ending, mainstream kind of film. This movie is not about sex surprisingly. The two never have sex until the final scene in the movie, which kind of seems a little rapey to me. But nonetheless, it is heartbreaking. With two people who don’t care about their own bodies, how can they care for one another? This is an unconventional love story between a drunk and a hooker. Ben is in love with her but doesn’t want to bring her into his twisted soul. He loves the bottle more than he can love anything else. This is a must see and may be the most intense display of alcohol dependence ever displayed on film.
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