Ah, “Leaving Las Vegas.” I’ve seen it once and I don’t think I could bear to see it again. This movie features the absolute worst humanity has to offer and creates a skin-crawlingly lurid world of pathetic drunken sadsacks, emotionally scarred hookers, sadistic pimps, developmentally disabled rapists, all in the backdrop of a godforsaken world that just doesn’t care.
The thing is this is our world, the one we live in rather than a yuckily fascinating fantasyland, but it is this side of life that the more privileged don’t want to look at. Also, this is considered the movie where Nicolas Cage was good. How’s that for a shocking twist? Joking. Actually, Nicolas Cage has been halfway decent in a select few other movies. I liked him in “Joe,” and “Matchstick Men,” and he was okay in “Kick-Ass” I guess, though the Moretz kid ran circles around him and all the other actors.
“Leaving Las Vegas” is about pain, pure and simple. It’s about the pain that comes with being one of society’s forgotten ones, and the pain that accompanies orchestrating your own destruction. The protagonist, Ben Sanderson (Cage,) is drinking himself to death. Why? He just doesn’t give a shit. He’s been laid off from his job as a screenwriter, his wife has left him and taken his son with her.
He’s a perpetually drunk alcoholic, consumed by ennui and self-loathing, who believes he has nothing to live for. After his dismissal from his job, Ben moves to Las Vegas, burns all of his screenplays, and prepares to slowly die of alcohol poisoning. When he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue,) a beguiling prostitute abused by her pimp (Julian Sands,) Ben falls head over heels.
Not enough to change for her- no, Ben’s long past the point to chance for anybody. He is simply content to be in her company. People don’t generally hire these women for idle chit-chat, so Sera’s all too happy to accommodate her worn-out client, who soon morphs into a friend and later into a live-in boyfriend.
Sera pretends to be a hardened Dame, but like Ben, she’s vulnerable and desperate. But unlike Ben, she has some small degree of hope. She builds a strange family for Ben and her where she is the happy homemaker and the ultimate enabler. The resulting film is an interesting character piece, and I guess Nicolas Cage IS good, along with Shue.
And I didn’t find any of the ensuing horror show unnecessary, until the ending. Potential viewers, avert your eyes, because this is going to get a bit spoiler-y. *********************SPOILERS I was astounded by the climactic scene, where Shue gives Cages a pity-fuck while Cage is lying on his death bed, wheezing and hacking. I guess the tragedy that is supposed to be portrayed in this scene is that they were unable to express their love physically until this sad moment, with Cage in a truly pitiful state.
But all I could think was how lurid and gross, and yes, unnecessary the scene was. It was like watching your feeble cancer-ridden Grandpa receive a blow-job from a lithe hooker before your very eyes. If Nic Cage were your grandfather, that is. Meh. Give or take a few years. *********************END OF SPOILERS
The characters being unlikable was not a problem. Shue and Cage imbue their portrayals with more compassion than these sad people probably deserve. The film, as a whole, was well-made. Watch it to see Cage at his best, but be forewarned, it’s terribly sad.