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Depressing and sordid, but we're fascinated; kind of like watching a
car wreck on the freeway. Elisabeth Shue is gorgeous, a little too
gorgeous for a hooker, but her hard line/masochistic interpretation
pulls it off. Her outfits could drape a People's worst-dressed of the
year... Cage overacts but has charisma. Shue shows off her muscles,
etc. If you want to know what an actress does between flicks today: she
works out. Shue has a beautiful butt and they show it. The
documentary-cum-stream of consciousness naturalistic style is a nice
break from a story well-told, but don't push it, Figgs; it could get
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are films that truly amaze you with their hidden depths and their
emotional impact. Conversely, there are those that read like a
checklist of ingredients that assure critical accolades as though they
were impersonally constructed on an assembly line and act as though the
viewer has an Oscar ballot in their popcorn bucket. Leaving Las Vegas
is definitely one of those films.
Alcoholic loser Nicolas Cage decides to commit suicide in the title city by drinking himself to death. He drifts into a love affair with prostitute Elisabeth Shue on the understanding that she will not interfere with his death wish. That is pretty much it for the plot and if there is a morsel of interest in there, it gets lost in translation to the screen.
Director Mike Figgis has always been a master of the moody, but less successful with the substantial. Here he provides the suitable melancholy background for the tale of woe to unfold, but it feels unusually manufactured. A description that infiltrates into all areas of this film. There is an odd feel that we are watching something mass-produced rather than organic. Figgis specializes in scenes where losers drop in melancholy despair on benches while nuns in full habits are seen in the background handing out pamphlets on salvation. Cue the irony! Everything disturbingly comes off as a grab for attention.
Much of the problem centers on the main character played by Nicolas Cage. Leaving Las Vegas symbolizes Cage's fall into the predictable. This role is a veritable grab bag of Oscar musts and the screenplay sanitizes alcoholism just enough to make it palatable. Naturally, Cage is not a violent drunk, but a relatively docile one and the film strains itself to make him an object of pity rather than scorn or revulsion. When he vomits from his binge drinking, it is never really shown just alluded to. To say that Cage's backstory is flimsy is an understatement. We never learn what has driven him to his suicidal impulses or why the romance with Shue never causes him to reconsider his decision. We also never understand why Shue is initially attracted to and compelled to cohabit with Cage, nor are we ever sold on why this love permeates Cage's bleary-eyed delirium to develop into something more than a one- or two-night stand. The entire central relationship ends up seeming like it was dreamed up by writer's whim for the imagined inherent melodrama. Additionally, the film's depiction of the onlookers is absurd and I am speaking as someone who grew up with an alcoholic in the house. Nearly every person presented seems to have an unending supply of patience and pity for Cage. Bartenders want him to be saved, prostitutes fall for him, even the security that escort him out after he upends a table treat him with a modicum of concern. Aside from one instance, no one is annoyed by his behavior or his self-destructiveness. They are all just incredibly and improbably moved. Every aspect of the writing for this character and Cage's performance is perfectly calibrated to prompt pity at every turn.
Shue actually gives the better performance despite being miscast, largely because her role by definition is at least allowed to have more of an emotional range than Cage's. Shue is sympathetic, but not really convincing. First off, no matter how much garish make-up and how many provocative costumes you dress her in, Shue still looks like the freshly scrubbed all-American girl-next-door. There is absolutely no way that any woman who looked like this would be a third-class hooker in Las Vegas - someone would have snatched her up and employed her in a far ritzier capacity. The film would have us believe at one point that Shue's experienced hooker would not know to avoid a gaggle of drunken frat boys or how to finesse the situation, so naturally we end up with a gratuitous rape scene. An actress who appears far more seasoned may have been a better selection here. It also does not help that Shue is forced to spend a great deal of time staring earnestly with dewy eyes at Cage's slurring lump. And, in the end, it is difficult not to realize that Shue is stuck playing that most clichéd of roles the prostitute with a heart of gold.
Then again, the haphazard writing may well have done anyone in. For instance, outside of the sanitized view of alcoholism, Shue's classy living quarters and her ability to pay for a quality therapist hardly seem to jibe with the low-class hooker the film otherwise wishes to paint. But then again, these flourishes are ostentatiously included to remind us that this call girl has insight, depth and aspirations. The most telling moment of the film's inadequacy occurs at a weekend outing where the drunken Cage falls into a glass table and then starts dancing around yelling "I'm a prickly pear! I'm a prickly pear!" The annoyed manager comes over to clean up the mess and politely invites Shue to get Cage and leave. The camera focuses on Shue's astonished boo-boo face and one realizes that this minor role of the manager is the only realistically portrayed person or moment in the film. To say there is nothing worthwhile here is incorrect. The photography is well done and, as previously mentioned, Shue is worthwhile despite the less than convincing casting. However, the film is nowhere near as provocative or moving as fans and critics would have you believe. I find the film fairly unmoving. The clichéd writing and Cage's showy "pity me" performance are off-putting enough, but there is a synthetic feel about the entire endeavor. Everything seems like it was belabored on storyboards for maximum potential to the point where it literally has a muted emotional impact. In short, it comes across like watching pasteurized Oscar fodder from a can by Chef Boyardee.
You'll have to excuse me if I am hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of
films like these, even though the elite film critics suggest that I
should. It seems there have always been extreme classes of movie
watchers since the era of films began. There is the class that finds
"Armageddon" and the theatrical "How the Green Dog (I mean Grinch)
Stole Christmas" as the definition of a good film. Then there are those
who think that a film is only good when it is harsh, uncompromising,
filled with tragedy, portraying "realism". In these movies, the merit
comes from the acting and dialog. Anything else remotely entertaining
classifies it as an artless Hollywood film.
I myself like to wander in between categories. I enjoy good Summer movies, but acknowledge them like great tasting junk-food. I also enjoy the deeper, more intelligent, artistic films that draws flocks of critical praise. Yet, when films such as "Leaving Las Vegas" are considered the best films of good movie years such as 1995, it makes me wonder much about the people who harbor such opinions. Is your life so good that you need hopelessness portrayed on the screen as a change of pace? Is your life as bleak as Nicholas Cage's and Elizabeth Shue's character that you need to see it visually to feel validated in your own decisions? Do you hate "unrealisitic" hope-filled movies because you have no incentive to change your own life? Does seeing this movie actually make a positive difference in your life? Movies have always had two purposes for me: entertainment and education. Really good movies (best of a certain year) do both. "Leaving Las Vegas" did neither for me. I cannot deny that there are powerful scenes nor that the two lead actors are first-rate. The dialog is also engaging. Yet, here lies a movie that shows the ugliness of throwing your life away without any hope of change. It is this colored with harsh profanity and unpleasantness and labeled "true to life".
To whom is this movie for? People I know personally do not act like this or speak like this. Real life for me is filled with hope and dreams. It is about going through trials and overcoming them. Watching a movie that makes me feel unpleasant from beginning to end without one ounce of inspiration is not a way to spend two hours of my time. How can this film be considered greater than "Braveheart?" That is a movie that is also considered a tragedy, yet on the way is filled with love, adventure, dedication, and hope. It does what a movie should do. Filmmakers, let's make high-quality films without thinking we need the bleakest point-of-view to classify it as a great work.
There is a lot to admire in Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas". An
attractive cast. A great on set location. Competent direction. An
original soundtrack by Sting. A relatively honest portrayal of
alcoholism that refuses to glorify it. But then again, what films do
Compared to pictures like "The Lost Weekend" and "Days of Wine and Roses", LLV seems a little more romanticized in its depiction of an end stage alcoholic. The cast is far too attractive in every respect. Nicholas Cage looks like he's been working out at the gym for five days a week, and yet he is supposed to be a man in his thirties approaching death after years battling a deadly addiction. End stage alcoholics are supposedly bloated or emaciated ciphers, vomiting, bleeding, and fluidly discharging their way through every violent or truncated relationship they can afford to hold on to. By comparison, this film offers a slightly more sanitized sheen to the whole ordeal. Cage got the shakes and DTs down, I guess, but nothing that would make you lose sleep over seeing.
Elizabeth Shue does a solid job as the equally lonely prostitute looking for companionship. But I was never that involved in their supposed 'romance' as I felt I should have been. All of the scenes involving her were a real drag to sit through, and I couldn't help but get the inkling that her character would have been much more engaging if she had been portrayed as a less attractive individual. Maybe more reminiscent of Charlize Theron in "Monster", but retaining the heart of gold. Instead, all I saw was "movie star" whenever she showed up on screen.
Mike Figgis does an admirable job at creating a moody, ethereal atmosphere, but much of the cinematography feels slightly cheap, like this film was made for VHS, and the soundtrack was that typical loungeroom jazz that you'd find in a Casino toilet. Maybe that was a purposeful artistic choice, but it didn't exactly suck me in, except for an excellent montage using Michael McDonald's cover of "lonely teardrops".
As it was, the film really failed to get going, and the director's choice to frame Elizabeth Shue's fantastic rear and perfectly sculpted body as a substitute for character arc was off putting in hindsight.
Would watch once, just for the Cage performance, but not again.
When speaking of Nicolas Cage, most people wouldn't define him as a
good actor. Still, he has had some roles in great movies and he takes
his job very seriously. That's probably one of the reasons why he won
an Oscar in Leaving Las Vegas for best actor he prepared for his role
by binge drinking, visiting hospitalised alcoholics and filming himself
drunk to study his speech patterns.
Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) is a divorced, broke alcoholic who just got fired because of his addiction. He decides to take all his money and move to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. One evening he meets a prostitute, Sera (Elisabeth Shue), and pays her to keep him company. After her abusive pimp Yuri (Julian Sands) is killed, Ben moves in with Sera and they start a strange relationship, agreeing they won't try to change each other.
Leaving Las Vegas is not a movie for everyone: it's a depressive story about two good people who realise they are doomed and there's no point in fighting for a change. Ben and Sera feel good when they are together, but Ben can't abandon his addiction, and Sera her job. It also features uneasy scenes of sex, alcoholism and chaos. The movie manages to remind us what a horrible and dangerous disease alcoholism is, mostly thanks to Cage's great performance. Shue is also great as the prostitute Sera, especially when she has to carry the movie, when the story focuses on her because Ben has briefly disappeared. Their impossible love is so believable it's almost painful.
The cinematography fits the depressing tone of the movie: almost everything takes place at night, in a city full of lights that don't comfort, or in dark and small rooms particularly while Ben is suffering the consequences of abstinence, the rooms begin looking claustrophobic, as if there was less and less air with each second that passes. The director Mike Figgis also wrote the music and even played some of the instruments for the soundtrack: his jazz fits the Las Vegas atmosphere beautifully. All in all, you have to be in the right mood to watch this movie since it can easily make you cry, but it's totally worth your time.
Rating: 8/10 Read more at http://passpopcorn.wordpress.com/
This is a film any decent human being wants to hate. It is a thing no
one wanted to watch, and some people had to because they are film
critics, or market test groups, or Academy voters. It is one of those
repugnant synopses that says, "You have better ways to spend 2 precious
hours of your life. This is madness." So, what got me to watch it on
demand last night? I'll tell you what.
I looked up from my laptop, from my shopping and banking and usual Saturday afternoon activities, whilst the tele was on in the living room. I looked up and saw Elizabeth Shue, a familiar face associated with good storytelling. The scene was unfamiliar--a movie I haven't seen?--I watched for a minute. Then the camera moved to Nicholas Cage and the look in his eyes chilled me to the bone. My soul searched for signs of a soul and found none. Nothing. Vacant. Utterly without life. Utterly believable. Gripping. A moment, a five-second shot maybe, a 10-second fixation (who's counting?), that is one of those moments in film history--that moment when you cannot take your eyes away, when you are mesmerized and horrified, filled with dread and pity.
Wow. What is this? Hit guide--oh, it's that one--the one about the guy who wants to drink himself to death. Hm. But that moment, my god, wow-- Nicholas Cage, that was stunning.
I went to a party that night and it was the first thing I had to talk about--have you seen this film--that moment? It made me want to watch the movie! How could I stomach two hours of watching a drunk? How could I even consider it? I hate drunkenness, it is not entertaining, it is not even a little bit interesting--drunks are boring, obnoxious, pathetic cowards who have checked out. They do the worst thing in the world: bore people. Wear people out. Shackle loved ones with pity and dread, day upon day upon day. How could I watch this?
Last night, it was a must-search, and I found it, started it, almost turned away, but that moment compelled me. Here is what is astonishing about the art of filmmaking: every aspect must be in place for the magic to happen. It is more difficult than theater because you have an army to feed, the clock is ticking, the greedy Wall Street dragon is coming after you--all of you--if this is a bomb, your careers will all take a nose dive--it's all about the money at the top. Those greedy narcissists who run our world, who fire producers who greenlight projects like this with their precious investment--heaven forbid they have to give up a second boat! Here, in this movie, the magic happened because everything went clinkety-clink, and there is a reason why the Academy recognized Nicholas Cage for the success of this film as a work of art that moves people profoundly and most unexpectedly! It's this: it all was on his shoulders. If that character wasn't real to us, the whole thing fell apart. If he couldn't make us believe in that guy and fall in love with that drunk, and care what happens to him, it's a flop, someone gets fired, actors phones stop ringing, they don't get called back--they're poison--they did that flop, nobody will ever trust them again.
On stage, the next night you can redeem yourself. Not on film, it's a one-time record and you had better get it at the right angle, in the right lighting, with the right music, framing the the whole thing, or it's a shrug. Nobody cares if this guy lives or dies. Nobody believes her reaction.
Absolutely stunned. I watched the whole damn thing and was glad I did. More than that--this is a film that made me want to read the novel. That almost never happens to me.
I really couldn't say whether Cage deserved an Oscar for his
performance as a pitiful, nihilist drunk. For endurance, i.e. high
intensity staggering and lurching though, he not only won the top gong
but also saddled himself with a calling card that has dogged his career
Nonetheless, this is a tough, searching picture whose seriousness begins with the forensic scrutiny of Las Vegas in Declan Quinn's first-class cinematography. Mike Figgis isn't scared of trying to capture obscure existential themes and this film has two of them: a man's pursuit of death by drinking; and his co-protagonist's complicity in that. Elisabeth Shue's unlikely tart-with-a-heart is a remarkable turn. Figgis has managed to cast and compose a sexually alluring woman (Shue is clad in enticing and occasionally sub-fetish Vivienne Westwood) who continues to perform her whore's role whilst clearly retaining some sort of intellectual chastity for Ben.
I'm not sure quite what to make of the film but it's really affecting, engrossing and a great panacea to the common, tolerated excess of La Vegas. 6/10
Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage) is a raging alcoholic. When he is fired
from his job, he moves to Las Vegas with the intention of drinking
himself to death. Upon his arrival he meets an attractive prostitute
named Sera (Elizabeth Shue) and the two strike up a quasi-romance in
which he agrees not to condemn her profession and she agrees not to
interfere with his determination to kill himself with alcohol. It is,
many critics and fans say, a story of unconditional love. It is also
one of the most profoundly overrated films to emerge from 1990s
The primary problem with LEAVING LAS VEGAS is the implausibility of its characters. There have been, no doubt, men determined to literally drink themselves to death--but the fact remains that men in such an advanced stage of alcoholism aren't lovable, much less reasonably good looking, much less capable of the thought processes depicted here. There have been, no doubt, hookers with hearts of gold--but those who operate at the level of Sera are seldom memorable beauties and tend to be drug addicted, mentally ill, and often both. And it is very obvious that not a person involved with the film has the faintest idea of what a flop-house hotel is actually like.
Having established these characters, the film proceeds to follow them to a bitter end that I found not in least moving because I never believed them in the first place. This is not to say that Cage and Shue give bad performances--they are actually remarkably good in their roles. It's just that the whole film, which touts itself as a hard slice of reality, is so unrealistic that Disney's LITTLE MERMAID looks like a documentary in comparison. Three stars for the performances, but they don't off-set the film's overall lack of veracity.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Beautifully tragic performances bolster this otherwise sad and
irredeemable screenplay. This is probably one of the best (and most
disturbing) performances to come out of Cage before, or since. I
generally enjoy his movies, but this individual performance tops them
all, in my opinion.
The screenplay is disturbing, in that it aptly and tragically, depicts the life of an alcoholic, and the woman who enables him. Frankly, it was done so well, I had little interest in a first viewing, and no interest in subsequent viewings. The irredeemability factor enters when one realizes that this work does not attempt to uplift, entertain, or teach, but rather focuses on the addictive behaviors of a full-blown alcoholic.
Life's just too short. If you've never lived with an alcoholic in the house, then this would be educational. If you're living in a fantasy world, where your life has never been touched by a chronic alcoholic, then you may derive some measure of entertainment from this film. Me? I was just saddened by the work, itself.
All in all, this is worth viewing if only to enjoy Cage's "breakthrough" performance. Otherwise, you may want to pass this one up.
It rates a 6.3/10 from...
the Fiend :.
Mike Figgis' 'Leaving Las Vegas' is a great movie, but it sure as hell isn't for everyone. It's by far one of the most depressing film I have ever seen in my life not to mention so raunchy and sleazy you'll want to take a shower after watching it. Nicolas Cage gives an unbelievably accurate performance as an alcoholic (a performance that rightfully earned him the Oscar in 1995), while Elisabeth Shue (who I felt deserved the Best Leading Actress Oscar in 1995 over Susan Sarandon for 'Dead Man Walking') is just as brilliant in her role as the caring and tragic prostitute who falls in love with the drunken Cage. 'Leaving Las Vegas' has a jazz/blues musical score that somehow fits in perfectly with the film, and Mike Figgis provides us with some eye-popping direction as well as an intricate screenplay. 'Leaving Las Vegas' is one hell of a downer, and I only recommend it for the strong-hearted. Watch out for cameos by Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Lewis, Steven Webber and Law & Order's Mariska Hargitay. . The bottom line is that Mike Figgis' 'Leaving Las Vegas' is a powerful film, but also a seedy, disturbing and depressing film. Grade: B+
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