>> Friday, March 2, 2007
USA/C-111m./Dir: Mike Figgis/Wr: Mike Figgis/Cast: Nicolas Cage (Ben Sanderson), Elisabeth Shue (Sera), Julian Sands (Yuri)
Nicolas Cage stars as Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic with a capital “A” in Leaving Las Vegas, the 90’s answer to The Lost Weekend. Ben is a man beset with problems--his wife abandoned him, he lost his job, and the liquor store is always closed when he needs it most--but rather than allowing his troubles to get him down, the determined dipsomaniac formulates a plan. Selling all of his possessions, Ben moves to Las Vegas (where the liquor stores never close) with the ambition of drinking himself to death. A chance encounter with a lonely prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) quickly blossoms into affection, as the two lost souls find solace in each other. Nevertheless, even love is not enough to deter Ben from his pursuit of self destruction.
Although filmed on a low budget on 16mm film stock, Mike Figgis’ indie looks better and packs a bigger punch than most big studio releases. Figgis deserves much of the credit for the picture’s success. He adapted John O’Brien’s novel for the screen, directed, and even composed the melancholy jazz score. However, the film might not have worked at all without Cage’s brave, sympathetic, and occasionally loopy portrayal of Ben, for which he deservedly won an Academy Award. Elisabeth Shue is just as good in a less showy performance, which also received a nomination.
Many viewers dismiss Leaving Las Vegas as being too depressing, but I can’t agree. Certainly, the movie is not without its downbeat moments, but I don’t see Ben as a tragic figure. He simply has a plan, and he’s sticking with it. Neither is the film entirely void of hope. After all, it is predominantly a love story, in which acceptance is shown as the most sincere form of affection and where small acts, such as the lighting of a match or the gift of a flask, are seen as highly romantic gestures. Finally, you must admit there’s an element of wish fulfillment to the picture. After all, there are worse ways to check out than making love to Elisabeth Shue while loaded on liquor. Of course, you may want to take my opinions with a grain of salt, because films about desperate alcoholics always make me thirsty.
Drinks Consumed--Vodka, whisky (bourbon and Scotch), gin, beer, and tequila
Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, bad breath, drunk driving, swearing, public disturbance, passing out, memory blackouts, and the shakes
Potent Quotables--SERA: So, Ben with an “N” (giggle), what brings you to Las Vegas? Business convention?
BEN: No… I came here to drink myself to death. Cashed in all my money, paid my Amex card, gonna sell the car tomorrow.
SERA: So, how long is it gonna take for you to (chuckle) drink yourself to death?
BEN: I think about four weeks. I don’t know for sure, but I think. I got enough for about 250 to $300 a day.
SERA: That should do it.
Video Availability--Leaving Las Vegas DVD (MGM)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Billy Bob Thornton played a suicidal drunk in Bad Santa (2003) with much different results.