An Intense and Emotional Trip Through Cage’s Sin City
As I wrote in my moving to Austin blog, New York doesn’t love a drunk. It simply ignores them and lets them be.
The same can be said for Las Vegas. A den of corporate hedonism, the weak can disappear into the glare of casino neon, ladies of the evening and $12 all you can eat buffets. Leaving Las Vegas, adapted from the semi-autographical novel of the same name, tells the story of Ben Anderson. Ben has himself a drinking problem and when he loses his job, his friends and his will to live, he trucks off to Vegas to drink himself to death. Literally.
Playing the rum soaked depressive is Nicholas Cage. The actor is at his best when his characters are a bit unhinged and his quirky, stop motion style delivery fits the role perfectly. Sometimes it’s a bit much and I wonder how much of his mannerisms are genuine to the condition, but it works in the context of the storytelling. Fair warning: if you’re not a fan of Nic Cage, this movie may be brutal for you, but if you can tolerate his “distinctive” acting style, you’ll be able to handle the ride.
And what a deceptively simple ride it is. The film’s base theme is one of two lost souls searching for redemption in their roughshod lives. On one side, Ben’s looking for a way to squash the pain of his shattered existence. Sera’s on the other side, a local prostitute who falls for Ben during a quick trick. Sera is played by Elisabeth Shue and while her performance has a couple of small cracks, her and Cage make a fantastically co-dependent couple. The pairing is a challenging one. At first their whirlwind romance didn’t make a ton of sense, but by the hour mark, it just felt right, a testament to strong work and deft writing.
Never mind the multiple award nominations and Cages’ Oscar for Best Actor, Leaving Las Vegas succeeds on the back of the exceptional direction of Mike Figgis. Figgis perfectly balances the heavy drama of a codependent relationship with moments of levity in the bright Vegas lights. Not to advocate alcoholism or anything, but let’s face it. Tipping back a few adult beverages and getting snotty faced can be a lot of fun. As a result, good times are occasionally had by the pair, whether it’s a boozy casino tour on the strip or a sultry pool side moment of seduction. Often these scenes have disastrous consequences, but they give the movie depth all the same.
All in all, that’s what the movie is about. Consequences, for better and for worse. Every action the twosome takes has a direct result and it’s that honesty which separates Leaving Las Vegas from other boozy dramas. In film discussions, most people focus on Cage’s vodka slinging and stumbling but there’s much more underneath the debauchery. No offense to Terry Gilliam, but it’s depth of human character that separates the film from the Fear and Loathing’s of the world. In Leaving Las Vegas, it’s not all about the trip, the high and the eventual come down. It’s about the people involved in the journey and the lasting effects of a life lived hard.
Score – 9 out of 10