Leaving Las Vegas Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue: Mike Figgis (Director) a jpoc movie review

Powerful, compelling and painful

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My Rating

Eight out of ten.

I can only watch this film on video. It is so powerful that I do not yet have the strength to watch it all the way through.

My review

I found this film very hard to watch. Not because it is a bad film, but because of the material with which it deals and the strength of the portrayal of that material.

Nicolas Cage plays Ben, a man who is on the way down and who knows it. He loses his family and his job and the only thing that he has left is drinking. Finally, destroying everything that remains of his old life, he takes his severance pay and sets off for Las Vegas with the simple intention of drinking himself to death.

There he has a chance encounter with prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and they are drawn together. All that Ben needs is a person who will not reject him because he is a drunk and who will not try to get him off the bottle. Sera needs Ben too. She needs a man who wants her for more than just sex or the money that it makes.

Oddly, for a relationship involving a prostitute, sex hardly enters into things. The reason is simple. Alcohol is deadening Ben to the extent that he is not sexually interested in Sera. This is the one thing that strains their relationship. Ben never asks Sera to stop working but he makes sure that she knows that he does not like it. Sera cannot understand how Ben can want to be with her but not want her sexually.

Finally, Sera realises something about Ben. When he told her that he intended to drink hiumself to death, he was being more serious than with anything else. She asks him to seek help. This precipitates a string of events that breaks them up but they are reunited for a tragic finale in which both finally get what they wanted.

Cage puts in a truely outstanding performance as Ben. Watching him gave me the same feelings that I have had when watching a friend get too drunk, too often. He really is totally convincing. Shue is good but her performance is overshadowed by Cage.

The final reason that the film is so compelling is the source material. The film is based on a book by John O'Brien who killed himself as filming began. Director, Mike Figgis finished the film as a tribute and O'Brien's father is reported to have described the story as his son's suicide note.