Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Poster

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Powerful Film About Loneliness And Acceptance
flipgirl3815 May 2005
Remarkable. Touching. Riveting. Leaving Las Vegas is all of these and then some. I have not seen a film of this magnitude about loneliness and acceptance in such a while that I was in tears for much of the run time.

Nicholas Cage is Ben, a man who has lost his wife and child, throws his job away, and takes all of his remaining money to buy as much liquor as possible and "drink himself to death" in the city of Las Vegas. He has given up all hope, with no wish to live, but for one reason or another, wants a companion to share in his misery, but not try to save him. He finds this companion in a hooker, Sera, played by Elizabeth Shue. They immediately form a strong relationship based on one night of talking about their lives. Sera in particular quickly grows attached to Ben, for no other reason than she has been alone her whole life and wants nothing more than to feel that want and need by someone.

Cage won his first Oscar for his role as Ben, and how deserved it was. He was astounding, perfection, down to every single tick, the volume of his voice, the pain and tragedy buried in his eyes. I could not believe the extent of his role, the dedication and time he invested in bringing this character to life. Same goes for Elizabeth Shue, who with a simple glance at a person, she reveals her entire self, and no one even dares to notice except for Ben. This neediness is apparent, she wants to hold onto this relationship so badly, yet what makes their relationship work is total and complete acceptance of their respective decisions. He will not tell her to stop being a hooker, and she in return can never ask him to stop drinking. And it is in that factor that makes this film worth watching. To be totally accepted by those around them, to open themselves up to such an extreme.

Leaving Las Vegas is a sobering film about connections, loneliness, acceptance, and a small little island of hope that is Ben and Sera. They are two good people, depicted in a world full of sorrows and misdeeds, who latch onto each other and never let go. They were nothing but ghosts, till that chance encounter, and became each others worlds. Cage and Shue bring these good people to life in such an extraordinary way, making Leaving Las Vegas a film to be treasured and remembered for years to come. I highly recommend this film.
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9/10
The dignity of love and the depths of despair
mstomaso3 June 2005
If Mike Figgis never made another film, and Nick Cage and Elizabeth Shue retired after making Leaving Las Vegas, they would have done so with impunity. Both actors are superb, and bring the excellent screenplay to life with the help of some masterful dramatic cinematography.

Cage plays a suicidal alcoholic who has come to Las Vegas to drink himself to death, and Shue plays the unexpected problem - a prostitute who falls in love with him. The only reason this film did not receive a ten from me is the voice-over technique which was tastefully minimal, but, in my opinion, the only mistake the director made. It does help to provide closure, but I felt that closure was an unnecessary compromise here.

This is not an entertaining film, and in truth, I am surprised by its popularity among typical audiences. It is a serious film, and a work of art, but fun is not to be found here. DO NOT see this film if you dislike feeling emotionally drained and ethically challenged, and DO NOT see it if you are very prone to boredom, or easily offended by sexual violence, substance abuse and the horror of daily life on the street.

This is an intensely sad film about love shared by people who are caught in the gravity of their lives and can not escape. It is also a story of redemption and respect, found in improbable places. It is NOT a fun-filled frolicking romantic comedy, but rather, the opposite, and it achieves a beauty, dignity and power almost unique among films treating such starkly real and disturbing subjects.
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9/10
Amazing, and gritty performances
jguz583 May 2003
It's not a movie I could bear to watch very often, because it's sad to see people destroy themselves. But Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue are riveting to watch here. As a person who has a past involvement in alcohol and substance abuse, I found Cage's performance especially compelling, and after watching him in this one, I am sure glad that lifestyle is behind me!

The chemistry between these two is really great, two people that need each other in different ways, trying to cope with how screwed up their lives have become. Very real performances, if you're faint-of-heart be ready for some strong words, and not just obscenities. Wow! They really lay it on the line. Great performances by two of my favorites.
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10/10
The chemistry between Cage and Shue is sizzling...
Nazi_Fighter_David27 June 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Mike Figgis directed beautifully 'Leaving Las Vegas'... His film resulted audacious, fiercely realistic...

Hollywood had great success with movies about alcoholism: "The Lost Weekend" which won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Ray Milland and "Days of Wine and Roses," depicting Jack Lemmon as a charming drunk who loses his job because of this, and brings his wife (Lee Remick) down with him...

In 'Leaving Las Vegas,' Figgis captures the chaos inside an alcoholic divorcée... He shows the complexity of life and human relationships... He invites us to use our imaginations about a suicidal alcoholic... He never really explained how his character is bent on killing himself, nevertheless his powerful message remains a very sad one, extremely difficult to embrace... The final scene in a dark, filthy motel room rank as some of the most heartbreaking moments I have ever seen in film, and surely it will leave you terribly moved...

Figgis treats his two leading characters tenderly... He never makes moral pronouncements, and to his credit, the film remains honest to the end, never sinking into sentimentality...

His style as his story remembers me Marco Ferreri's greatest international success, 'La Grande Bouffe' (Blow-Out), a black and highly flatulent comedy (that won the Grand Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973) about four middle-aged men who gather in a well-appointed villa to eat themselves to death...

'Leaving Las Vegas' is the depressing love story of a failed drunken writer and a self-assured $500-a-night young hooker with whom he crosses paths... It is an appeasing tale of a dedicated drunk who downs entire bottles of hard liquor in several gulps... He is on the way down and he recognizes it... He is an ecumenical drinker who wants to destroy everything that remains of his old life... He fills his supermarket jumbo cart with as much booze as possible, and moves for Vegas to literally drink himself to death...

Nicolas Cage is remarkable as Ben Sanderson, the alcoholic who is resolute and actually thoughtful about his self-destruction..

Ben admits he has nothing to live for and he wants to die... He swills vodka from the bottle in the shower... He drinks greedily at the bottom of a swimming pool... He drinks, and drinks, 'til there's no more... And when he discovers that the Casino does not offer the Bloody Mary's that he asks, he explodes, overturning the table of Blackjack where he was gambling... He wakes up at night shaking so much he can merely crawl to the refrigerator and intensely swallows Vodka mixed with a little orange juice...

Elisabeth Shue proves to be a revelation as Sera.. A polite, beautiful, and sensitive blonde woman who prides herself on being just a high-class call girl... Nevertheless her vulnerable character is very puzzling for her terrible lifestyle, and her strange desperate attachment to a sadistic pimp Yuri Butso...

Sera meets Ben and inexplicably finds herself attracted to him... She soon develop a rich closeness that can nearly be described as love... Ben continues to tell her that true love between them could never happen...

After Yuri is soon out of the way by Russian thugs, she takes Ben under her wing, and attempts to fill a need in her life much like Ben fills his needs with liquor... Both share a common bond of misery and loneliness... Sera cares for Ben enough to handle his drunken bouts of coldness... She complies to Ben's own terms and vows to never dissuade him from his suicidal goal... Out of sheer love, she even buys him a silver flask for a present, while, inside, she is desperate to find some way to change his course as well as her own...

In one of the most revealing scenes at a desert resort, she drowns herself in sunlight and liquor to seduce Ben... She tries to love him, and in his infrequent getaways of semi-sobriety, he attempts to love her back...

The opportunity is shattered as Ben, without an ability or desire to change, becomes for her a tragic portrait of life without hope... How foolish of her to push him to select...

Shue keeps, all the way, an intriguing character extremely human... She is good and tender... Never tough or cynical... Her observations, without dialog, suggest just a sliver of expectation... In the final outcome, this dream hooker is the heart of the story... The Academy showed their appreciation by giving her a best actress nomination...

"Leaving Las Vegas" is pain, isolation and honesty... An unusual picture of human desperation and impotency... A study of acceptance, resignation and despair of an amazing two characters... An examination of what happens when two lovers are caught in cycles of self-destruction...

The film is extremely well written, directed and acted... The chemistry between Cage and Shue is sizzling... They are able to solve their existential frustrations by connecting in perfect harmony, and yet they are still completely alone...

'Leaving Las Vegas' has some film noir feel by moments, specially during the dark alleyways and hookers, where its neon signs are seedy, its nights perpetual, and the glitter absent... Figgis' camera moves as fluidly as the alcohol guzzles bottle after bottle down Cage's throat... The music adds plenty to the motion picture with ballads playing a large role in the odd romance... Like Chaplin and Woody Allen, Figgis molds his movie by using his own music...

In an ironic twist of events, the book's author John O'Brien actually committed suicide in 1994, two weeks after selling the movie rights... He never got to see his vision realized on the screen... Director, Mike Figgis finished the film as a tribute...
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10/10
Or, is killing myself a way of drinking?
Andy (film-critic)3 February 2005
To me, this is one of the best romantic films that you can get your hands on. If you are interested in seeing a pure love, one that is not focused purely on sex, but instead emotional and mental connectiveness, then this is the film for you. While others will argue that this is not the best date film, I would beg to differ. Leaving Las Vegas would be a perfect choice for a first date film over anything that Meg Ryan or the recycle bin of Hollywood has to offer. It is a gripping story of realistic love, and the dramatic consequences of giving your heart to someone. It is about dreams, companionship, and the hurdles of everyday romance. This is a film that proves that the darker underbelly of our society still has a shimmering light of hope and love. Director Mike Figgis has done an outstanding job of giving these two rich characters the right elements to build upon the "classic" love-story moments, while giving it a flavor uniquely his own. Figgis' mixture of gritty Vegas with the beautiful jazz sounds really created the ambiance of love and pushed these two ugly ducklings closer towards their transformation into love. I think that is what really captured me on this film, was that it was similar to the love stories that Hollywood continually releases, except it gave us two tragic characters instead of these bubbly, money isn't everything, characters that seem to be repetitive cogs in the Hollywood machine.

Let me explain this further. When you think of a love story, what are the elements that you consider? You have a guy and a girl (normally), they have this coincidental moment where they find their common bond, they are held back by either an internal or external dilemma, there is a factor of insecurity, and finally the dramatic ending where the two rush together at a predisclosed location (normally an airport). Does that sound familiar in any way? These are all elements that you can find in LLV. I have seen this film at least a dozen times, and for some odd reason it was this viewing that it just seemed to click for me. This is the perfect American love story told with a darker tone. While most will see this as nothing more than the story of a drunk trying to kill himself and a graphic scenes with a prostitute, I saw it as the classic story of love. All the elements are present. Ben and Sera coincidentally meet one night, both seeking companionship and without the pressures of sex, they immediately form this bond that will never be broken. Through Ben's drunkenness, he remembers her and continually wants to see her. They both have internal factors that hold them back, Sera's is prostitution while Ben's is his drinking. Even through there are these factors, they still find themselves together. That feeling of insecurity is even there when Sera arrives home one night to find Ben with someone else. It all seems to fit. Then there is the amazing ending that will either have you in rapture or in awe. These two are in love, and it isn't this bubbly love between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, it is truths of America finding the dream of compassion.

The only unnecessary moments that I felt could have been fine-tuned were those involving Julian Sans. I just couldn't capture his character. I needed a bit more back-story or perhaps more interactions between him and Sera. Something was missing that distracted from the scenes that they shared. Outside of this one element, the rest of the film was purely flawless and even at times carnal. For example, when Sera has the opportunity to be on her own, she chooses to forgo her independence and be with Ben. Shue and Figgis both demonstrate that perhaps Sera is not in love with Ben, but instead the concept of a man wanting to be with her because of who she is. It is obvious that Sera seeks companionship, and probably has never had it all her life, when suddenly Ben struts into the picture. This may explain why she continues to work when she doesn't have to. She is used to the job, she thrives for the intensity, and perhaps uses it to fall deeper in love with Ben. Figgis doesn't come out and give you a reason why Sera continues along her path, but instead leaves it up to your imagination and enjoyment. Leaving Las Vegas felt like a combination Breaking the Waves, Love Liza, and All the Real Girls. This is a love story with so many different human elements coming to you at once that the average viewer would probably ignore the signs and see this as a depressing film. While it isn't the lightest film of the ages, it does prove that "Love is a very splendid thing".

I cannot end this review without at least mentioning the amazing acting done by both Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue. The chemistry between them is rare in Hollywood. I felt that these two really made this film and were just not placed in their roles to sell tickets. Cage really felt comfortable and understood his character while Shue fit perfectly with her secrets and heart. It is obvious why Cage won the Oscar for his role in this film, and while I am sure we will never see him take a role like this again (thanks to summer blockbusters), it was good to see him take a role that really redefined the romance genre. The same goes for Shue. While she hasn't really made another film like this one in a very long time (outside of Adventures in Babysitting), it is good to know that she can take on roles like this and have the guts to follow through.

Overall, this was a very powerful and emotional film for me.

Grade: ***** out of *****
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8/10
Unconditional love in an alcoholic haze.
Spikeopath17 June 2009
Ben Sanderson is an alcoholic, who after getting released from his well paid screen writing position, heads to Vegas with his severance pay. Where he seriously plans to drink himself to death. But whilst cruising down the strip he meets Sera, a nicely turned out prostitute, and both troubled souls come together in an unlikely romance.

Based around the semi-autobiographical novel by John O'Brien, an alcoholic who committed suicide before the film made it to the screen, this is a sad, dark and deeply upsetting picture. Sanderson and his plight has no motive, we are not fed reasons for his nihilistic behaviour. We find him at the beginning of the film joyously hurtling thru a liquor market isle, promptly filling his shopping cart with bottles of liquor. From here on in we know that this is no ordinary film about an alcoholic trying to get off the booze, we are on a train to Bleakville, stops at Love and Liberation seem a very long way away.

Enter Sera, the sweet and wholesome prostitute, who having escaped the abusive and borderline psycho pimp, Yuri, is herself in need of liberation. But can she carry the burden of both as this unlikely and almost certainly doomed romance starts to become significant? Nicholas Cage as Sanderson is terrific, very compelling, realistic and segueing from zany wired comedy to the desolation of Sanderson's death wish descent within a heart beat. Elisabeth Shue as Sera is also incredibly potent, if perhaps guilty of looking too pristine, and prompting questions of why she would be drawn to Ben's world anyway?

Shue none the less works her socks off to make Sera sensitive and believable. Directed by Mike Figgis, who shot it beautifully in Super 16 film, the film won a Best Actor Academy Award for Cage, and garnered nominations for Best Actress {Shue} & Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay {both Figgis}. Massively popular and praised on release, it has lost none of the impact that it had back then. 8/10
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10/10
Leaving My Senses perhaps . . . but there's more here than meets the eye.
Bill Stoll7 June 2005
I've seen this film 5 or 6 times. It occurred to me on the last viewing that it could be the ultimate Touched by an Angel – Ben's time in Las Vegas, that is. I believe author John O'Brien thought he was living through a hallucination in the final throes of his diseased life.

The possibility rises out of several conspicuous dynamics in the film.

First, that Ben's life was invested developing Hollywood drama prior to being dismissed by his boss, who will clearly miss his talent and personality in the office, a talent singularly broken by the ravages of alcoholism. He is good at inventing and developing "story". If his occupation had been Investment Banking or Teaching, I'd feel differently. But John O'Brien bore him with a Hollywood mind. That lit the flame for me.

That Ben repeatedly calls Sera his angel during his demise - as he enjoys the best of - and endures the worst of - Las Vegas living. It is possible that all of it is a hallucination during the final pathetic act of his life. The invention of Sera makes his passing bearable, doable, a possible goal for him.

That Sera endures the college team horrors, discuses her relationship with the off-camera therapist to whom she confesses her soul-deep love for Ben ... even the problems with her pimp and landlord constitute deep back story in the mind of a man with a talent for such invention, desperate to flesh out the reasons why this angel will escort him to the next world. In my last analysis, she is an angel divined in his fertile mind to embody all of the good people and events in his life (the wealth flashback memories, e.g.). Sera has come to take him out while steeling the love in his heart. She sees him for what he is, because that's what responsible angels do.

This is a work with metaphor far beyond the veneer of the surface dialog. It's a film demanding to be viewed more than once. Or perhaps, I'm just going nuts, have lost it and I'm hallucinating in my own right.

Either way, enjoy. 10 out of 10.
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Viva Greek Tragedies
hlcepeda5 January 2004
Not unlike John Huston's Under The Volcano, Leaving Las Vegas borrows from Greek mythology, obliquely mirroring the tragedy and pathos of Orpheus' failed attempt to rescue his dead wife, Eurydice, from Hades. Mike Figgis obliges us with a helpful hint in the scene where Nicolas Cage gives Elizabeth Shue a present of earrings: Greek cameos.

As in the ancient tale, love challenges the inevitability of death, although, in the case of LLV, roles are upended and sometimes blurred, and Orphean references are either thinly disguised, or non-specific to the point of being thoroughly sublimated. Academic, to be sure, but completely acceptable as long as LLV can sustain itself and remain engaging. And it surely does, thanks to Figgis' intelligent script and direction, Cage's role as a down-and-out writer and his protracted self-destruction, and Shue's portrayal of a lonely hooker, lifting that old bromide beyond what could have been routine, to a level not seen since Jane Fonda's character in Klute. Excellent performances all around.

With all that said, this film is not for everyone (in particular those who only respond to gratuitous sex, car chases, and mindless pyrotechnics). The lurid depictions of despair, self-loathing, and violence could put off even the most hardened social worker. In my mind's eye, I could see psychiatrists amongst the theater audiences, furiously jotting down their observations. Understandable; the two principal characters are, in the common parlance, screwed up. One cannot cope with failure, so decides to opt out, while the other does cope, but only barely, existing along the ragged edges of what passes for society in Nevada Hell. These details, though, tend to outline and, indeed, strengthen the true heart of this film: Sacrifice and Unconditional Love.

If this film is not for everyone, then who is it for? Those with real life experience and the maturity gained thereby. Those with strong emotional constitutions. Anyone appreciative of impassioned performances. Freudians. Alcoholics, recovering and otherwise. Pimps. Priests. Classicists. Petty whiners in need of perspective. And, more than anyone else, couples who plan on breaking up. In sickness and in health, 'til death do us part. 9.5 out of 10.
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Cage's Career Milestone
CurtMan@LVCM.com22 October 2004
"Leaving Las Vegas" is an insightful, harrowing experience about the binding forces of true romance, the power of encouragement and compassion, and the tragic effects of alcoholism. The performances are absolutely astounding: Nicholas Cage delivers one of the most unforgettable, genuine, and human performances ever captured on film (a well-deserved Oscar for every reason), and Elisabeth Shue, as his soul provider and protector through the trauma of his alcoholic turmoil is sentimental, passionate, and definitely deserving of the Oscar for Best Actress in 1995, providing us with the eye of Ben Sanderson's heart and soul, as his equally troubled lover who has pledged to stay with him through tears and trials. Director Mike Figgis is intensely effective in following the many turmoils of Sanderson as he copes with terminal alcoholism, even going so far as to declaring he will "drink himself to death in Las Vegas", and the effects of his struggle upon his functions, health, and spirit, as well as the corresponding attributes of his loyal lover, Sara. I'm certain that anyone who has experienced the turmoil of alcoholism or has been deeply involved with such an abuser will gravely appreciate the realism and depth of this film to address the egregious effects of drinking constantly, and how this alcoholism tears many lives literally apart. I was horrified by Sanderson's dependence upon alcoholism as a substitute for happiness and control, and Nicholas Cage's uncanny human performance, with all of his appropriate, convincing twitches and erratic movements, enhanced the compassion and torment I felt for this character, who has literally surrendered his life to this terrible disease of alcoholism. We gasp in horror as we see Sanderson taking a shower with a bottle of gin in hand, and trembling to the refrigerator for a bottle of vodka: these are the true, tragic symptoms of alcoholism, and this film does an excellent job in addressing them. A brilliant, tragic, yet extremely essential study of the disease of alcoholism and how it can destroy every aspiration, every desire, and every state of consciousness we have within ourselves, when we are constantly craving "one more bottle of vodka" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week... Nicholas Cage delivers one of the most heartfelt and eerily convincing performances in the history of film, and this is one lamentable, subliminal look at one of the saddest and unnecessary addictions in humans: striving to either enhance, better, or in this case, destroy their lives in constantly drinking intoxicating and deadly substances. Sanderson to Sara: "You can never make me stop drinking"--- the sad, yet frighteningly real state of mind of a disparaged, hopeless, alcoholic. **** out of ****
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Bravura Cage & Shue; latter day "Days of Wine & Roses"; flawless tragic love story
george.schmidt11 April 2003
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995) **** Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands. (Cameos: Richard Lewis, Steven Weber, Carey Lowell, French Stewart, Julian Lennon, Mariska Hargitay, R. Lee Ermey, Ed Lauter, Danny Huston, Lucinda Jenney, Lou Rawls, Laurie Metcalf, Shawnee Smith, Bob Rafelson,Xander Berkley). Uncompromisingly bleak and powerful portrayal of unconditional love between two tragic misfits. Cage in a bravura performance, that justifiably garnered him a Best Actor Oscar, vows to give up on life and heads to Vegas to drink himself to death where he meets and falls for pretty victimized hooker Shue (the performance of her career, and Best Actress nominee) who decides to love him for what he is. Excellent rapport and believably realistic performances and excellent adaptation of John O' Brien's semi-autobiographical novel of total despair. O' Brien committed suicide shortly after his novel was being produced into a film. Filmed in grainy 16MM and blown up to 35MM gives it an all too natural look. Look sharply for the film's director Mike Figgis as a goateed thug after pimp Sands.
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