Monday, 18 August 2008

Leaving Las Vegas

1995. Dir: Mike Figgis. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands, Richard Lewis and Steven Weber. ●●●●○

Leaving Las Vegas is not a film for the light hearted. It contains very frank and explicit scenes of alcoholism and prostition, without the Hollywood sugar coating. For those who are able to make it through the tough exterior they will find a glorious film inside.

The plot can be summarised in one matchbox sized sentence: Drunk moves to Las Vegas to die and meets tart with a heart. Indeed when you boil it down there isn't much more to the story than that.

Nicolas Cage, as Ben Sanderson, is an alcoholic in Hollywood who, on losing his job, decides to end his life by drinking himself to death in Las Vegas, the city where the bars never close. Elisabeth Shue is Sera the prostitute who's pimp, Julian Sands, is just letting her go (partly due to his paranoia and partly to protect her from the Russian mafia out to get him). Ben and Sera meet up and an unusual and close bond is formed between them. A bond that exists on one proviso, that Sear allows Ben to drink and Ben does not attack Sera's way of life.

Thinsg do not go completely to play. Suffice to say the ending is pretty tragic, however the acceptance and forgiveness that the odd couple display towards each up to that point is very touching.

In my last random review (Long days Journey into Night) nearly all of the cast had to display various levels of drunkeness and drug taking. Here Cage does not merely portray the effects of having a drink, but also the long term physiological changes. He sweats, vomits and shakes in almost every scene - his behaviour is erratic and uncontrolled and he shows huge swings in confidence and understanding of his situation. It's a masterful performance which rightly earned Cage the Best Actor Oscar.

Shue does not has the tics and traits of alcoholism to hide behind, yet in my mind she gives a superior performance. Deep in her eyes you can see her shifting perceptions of Ben, Yuri and her clients, and you can really understand when and why she asks Ben to see a doctor and the hurt she feels when he betrays her.

Figgis and cinematographer Declan Quinn do a fine job of the look and feel of the film, shooting in 16mm, generally with long takes and a moving camera. As a result the film has a spontaneous and documentary feel to it.

The main issue I would say that the film has is the misogynism apparent in the script, and it's something that reoccurs in most of Figgis's work. It is not enough that Sera is gang-raped, but it has to be an anal rape scene, and all of the supporting female roles are either sexual objects or shrews.

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