Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
December 1, 2023 5:49 PM - Subscribe

Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his alcoholism, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera.

Adapted from the novel by John O'Brien, this acclaimed drama follows alcoholic screenwriter Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) as he drinks himself into oblivion in Las Vegas. When Ben meets the beautiful prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue), they strike up an unconventional relationship -- one where she can't ask him to curb his drinking, and he can't fault her for her job. Though they offer each other support, Ben's self-destruction threatens to eclipse their bond.

Barbara Shulgasser: "LEAVING Las Vegas" is a powerful movie about self-destruction and emotional neediness. Nicolas Cage gives one of the best performances of his strange, courageous career as Ben, a hopeless alcoholic who loses his wife, child and job and heads for the seediest place he can think of, Las Vegas, to drink himself to death.

As a premise for a movie, this plot has potential for showing off the talents of an actor. Over the years, Cage has developed the experience and talent to express what has always been a bizarre take on human behavior. Today Cage takes the opportunity this role offers and proves himself once again to be one of the finest, and most eccentric, movie actors of his generation.

Marjorie Baumgarten: Cage plays the part with complete abandon, creating a searingly immortal character. Part buffoon, part poet, part lout, and part angel, Ben is no easy character to pin down. Just when you think you're about to witness his sensitive side, he does something crass like plummeting through a glass table. In Las Vegas, he becomes taken with a $500-a-night hooker named Sera (Shue), who, in turn, takes a shine to him. Shue is wonderful in the role, surpassing any of the more wholesome work she's done before. Yet, her role is also one of the problems of the film. Though she's a good soul who is willing to accept Ben on his own terms for whatever brief time they may have together, she is essentially little more than the whore with a heart of gold. Even the movie's breakaway scenes of Sera talking to her therapist add little depth to the character and remind us far too much of Klute. Her story line also builds to a horrifying and disturbing climax, that really seems like an unnecessary sidetrack.

Janet Maslin: But "Leaving Las Vegas" is far less dolorous than might be expected. Passionate and furiously alive, it is brightened by the same unlikely bonhomie that has long kept Ben afloat. First seen gaily loading up a shopping cart at the liquor store, Ben has a courtly charm that is as beguiling as it is erratic. He can move from high spirits to furniture-smashing rage in a matter of seconds, but he never has trouble getting attention.

. . .

The awkward device of letting Sera talk about herself on a therapist's couch doesn't give her much added depth, though her troubles with a sleazy Latvian pimp (Julian Sands, with a flamboyant accent) add some color. And the screenplay's attempt to create an 11th-hour crisis for Sera seems false, too. For all Ms. Shue's warmth, in the kind of gutsy, unflinching role that often goes to Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Leaving Las Vegas" never rings entirely true as a bleak love story. Ben clings to Sera as a last straw, but he's still a man alone.

Mr. Cage digs deep to find his character's inner demons while also capturing the riotous energy of his outward charm. The film would seem vastly more sordid without his irrepressible good humor.

posted by Carillon (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a lot to digest here. I don't know if I can 'enjoy' this movie, but it is one I appreciate and that sticks with me. It's more clear-eyed towards the situation than a lot of Hollywood films would be. It doesn't read as misery porn to me because of the acting and characters, but skirts the edge, so I wouldn't be surprised if others felt it does go too far. Cage and Shue can act though.
posted by Carillon at 5:52 PM on December 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

Saw this in college with my best friend and I'll never forget our exchange afterwards as we walked from the theater emotionally drained. He looked at me and said "Is it wrong that what I want right now is a drink?"

Always was disappointed that she didn't get more meaty roles because I felt without her the movie would be misery porn.
posted by drewbage1847 at 6:21 PM on December 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

It's been 20 years and I might be ready to rewatch this. Maybe. I'd rewatch this sooner than Requiem for a Dream but that's not saying much. Nick Cage was really incredible in this, I can still vividly remember his acting in certain scenes and how I felt watching it.
posted by gatorae at 7:09 PM on December 15, 2023

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