Review: Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

>> 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.


Michael K March 6, 2007 at 6:07 PM  


Nice lil blog you got here. I am starting back to blogging myself as I was neglecting it for far too long. The fact that you put a link for me up and I haven't written shit for months made me feel guilty.

Anyways, congrats on the regular gig in Modern Drunkard. You're like totally famous and shit. You could turn these posts into a book and make like a zillion bucks. It's way better than any shit Jeffry Lyons shits out.

Keep it up!

garv March 6, 2007 at 9:28 PM  


Thanks for stoppin' by. The possibility of a Booze Movies book was the whole incentive for starting this project, and it seems to be working. I feel guilty if I don't post a couple of new reviews each week.

When I get a couple of hundred reviews of the major alky-centric movies completed, it will be time to write up a book proposal. In the meantime, I'm having a blast.


santipissed March 6, 2007 at 11:00 PM  

I remember looking at Randy after seeing that movie together...we were confused and decided to get a drink(s)...Hope all is well!

Michael K March 7, 2007 at 5:17 PM  

Also, one of my fav movies in which there's a lot of boozin' is State of Grace. Also, one of my fav movies of all time. My favorite love scene is in that movie. I think it was so good because Sean and Robin fell in love and got married after that flick. Gary Oldman at his total fuck up best.

Anyway, as a fellow cinema geek, I am hooked.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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