Cage's Spirits Raised in Vegas
Once in a while, the Hollywood movie machine manages to get it right and make a decent movie which is gritty, realistic and does not shy away from the truth. Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas" starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue is a shining example of this, as we watch one man's steady demise due to his alcohol addiction. Along with this, we get a snapshot of the seedy side of prostitution in Las Vegas, which doesn't pull any punches. And these two elements combined with the good performances from Cage and Shue make "Leaving Las Vegas" something special.
Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage - It Could Happen to You) is a Hollywood screenwriter whose life revolves around his need for drink. After being fired, he takes his severance pay and heads to Las Vegas, where he plans to drink himself to death. Whilst there he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue - Back to the Future Part III), a streetwise prostitute who responds both to Ben's wild antics and to his absolute gentleness. What Sera needs most is to be needed, and Ben needs her a lot.
Although "Leaving Las Vegas" is an extremely hard hitting drama, with several scenes of violence, it is also very engrossing as you watch the friendship between Ben and Sera grow, and really start to feel for them.
The lead role of Ben Sanderson is played by Nicolas Cage who won an Oscar for his performance. Cage's performance is masterful, as usually you would not feel much empathy towards a man who is trying to drink himself to death. But with Cage's portrayal you do, because underneath the alcoholic bravado, you know that Ben is really a nice guy who has let recent events knock the stuffing out of him.
Opposite Nicolas Cage is Elisabeth Shue as Sera the prostitute who falls for Ben. Shue's performance is as masterful as Cage's, and although she didn't win an Oscar for her performance, she was nominated. Again, you wouldn't necessarily feel much compassion towards someone who is a prostitute, but in the case of Sera you do, as you can see how much it is hurting her to watch Ben kill himself.
The whole film is based around the characters of Ben and Sera, and all the other characters in the film don't play a huge part. The only one who has more than a couple of lines is Sera's pimp, Yuri played by Julian Sands, but he is purely there to give some background to her character.
"Leaving Las Vegas" is directed by Mike Figgis and I feel he should be applauded for making such a real drama. It would have been very easy to treat such a hard hitting story with kid gloves and to shy away from the reality. But Figgis has remained strong, and through some masterful techniques, has demonstrated the turmoil that Ben goes through as the alcohol controls his life. On top of this, he has shown the pain that both Sera and Ben go through as they find themselves in a very difficult relationship.
What this all boils down to is that "Leaving Las Vegas" is one of those films which I can only watch once in a while, because it is such a hard hitting drama which will bring even the toughest person to tears. But I guarantee you, that once you start to watch it, you will be engrossed right up until the end.