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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 6 September 2003
"Leaving Las Vegas" is a dark and tragic film that shows you how low you can fall and just how bad things can get. It portrays a dead-on picture of alcoholism and what exactly one goes through when they've hit rock bottom. As tragic as it is, this is a very beautiful and well-done film that keeps your attention to the bitter end.
Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage) is an alcoholic who has nothing left to live for but the very booze that seems to be the only happiness he can find. His friends want nothing to do with him and women are disgusted by him. After being let go from his job, Ben burns all of his possessions and moves to Las Vegas, where his only plan is to drink himself to death. In a short amount of time he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a lonely hooker who has been through it all. An unexpected bond is formed between the two and love falls upon them that can only end in tragedy.
Boy, was this a hard movie to watch, but it was so well-done and executed. You are able to sympathize with both Ben and Sera, despite the paths they have chosen. Nicholas Cage was amazing and brilliant. No wonder why he won an Academy Award for his performance. You really buy into the fact that he is this sad character who wants nothing more but to destroy himself by the only thing that can bring him some sense of false happiness. Shue is also terrific in her role and should be applauded as well. The two are explosive as a team and can really bring the house down.
"Leaving Las Vegas" is drama at its best. It's heartbreaking, but at the same time is satisfying. It's emotionally charged from start to finish. The writing is poetic, the acting is electric, and the directing is fantastic. Be warned, this is not a "feel-good" movie. It's a portrait of harsh reality and it doesn't go easy on you for a second. If you want a powerhouse drama that will keep you emotionally involved, this is the one for you. A terrific and amazing film on every front.
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on 26 April 2003
Mike Figgis brought this touching ode to the night to the screen, imbuing it with the transient and tragic nature of those seduced and then swallowed up by it. The director of Stormy Monday perfectly captures the sad yet often poetic beauty found in the shared loneliness of the night two souls in despair can find. On the surface it is a simple story of a man drinking himself to death and a prostitute on the streets of Las Vegas. But it is really a story of love and loss with a foreign film atmosphere and quality, giving it that rare depth where the film becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Nicholas Cage gives a haunting performance as Ben Sanderson, a man who has lost everything and come to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. On his way down he meets a prostitute named Sera and in their spiraling despair they discover love. One of the most poignant moments in the film comes when Cage is on the streets of Las Vegas seeking human contact and can’t remember whether he lost everything because of his drinking or started drinking because he lost everything. Cage’s performance rings absolutely true and deservedly won him the Oscar. He shows with great tenderness the sad realism of being an alcoholic.
Matching Cage scene for scene is Elizabeth Shue in a brilliantly realized role that should have won an Oscar. As this working girl begins to care about Ben she discovers she is not dead inside, like some, and can still love. But when Ben finally pushes her away in order to save her she realizes that if she lets him, she may very well lose this power to love and her connection to being human. Going back, however, may be more than her heart can bare.
Figgis has made a mesmerizing film of almost overwhelming sadness. This is not a ‘feel good’ movie by any stretch of the imagination. There is both truth and poetry here though for those who know this life. Ben and Sera are like two roses; one withering at the onset of its last winter and the other finding an unexpected bud on a long dormant vine.
An incredible sountrack with artist like Michael MacDonald and Sting is used to set the tone for this wonderful but difficult to watch film. Anyone who has ever been devastated by a loss and known a Sera will be moved by this heartbreaking journey into loneliness and despair. Though brilliant, its appeal may be limited and it is easy to understand why some are not as enthusiastic about it.
But for those who have even seen or experienced a glimmer of this side of life and been shown the comforting tenderness of love on the way down, the final moments of this film will be almost painful to watch and deeply affecting. Figgis has made a masterpiece for all those who have walked away before the night swallowed them up completely and they were lost forever.
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I found this film very hard to watch. Not because it is a bad film but because of the material with which it deals and the strength of the portrayal of that material.
Nicolas Cage plays Ben, a man who is on the way down and who knows it. He loses his family and his job and the only thing that he has left is drinking. Finally, destroying everything that remains of his old life, he takes his severance pay and sets off for Las Vegas with the simple intention of drinking himself to death.
There he has a chance encounter with prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and they are drawn together. All that Ben needs is a person who will not reject him because he is a drunk and who will not try to get him off the bottle. Sera needs Ben too. She needs a man who wants her for more than just sex or the money that it makes.
Oddly, for a relationship involving a prostitute, sex hardly enters into things. The reason is simple. Alcohol is deadening Ben to the extent that he is not sexually interested in Sera. This is the one thing that strains their relationship. Ben never asks Sera to stop working but he makes sure that she knows that he does not like it. Sera cannot understand how Ben can want to be with her but not want her sexually.
Finally, Sera realises something about Ben. When he told her that he intended to drink hiumself to death, he was being more serious than with anything else. She asks him to seek help. This precipitates a string of events that breaks them up but they are reunited for a tragic finale in which both finally get what they wanted.
Cage puts in a truely outstanding performance as Ben. Watching him gave me the same feelings that I have had when watching a friend get too drunk, too often. He really is totally convincing. Shue is good but her performance is overshadowed by Cage.
The final reason that the film is so compelling is the source material. The film is based on a book by John O'Brien who killed himself as filming began. Director, Mike Figgis finished the film as a tribute and O'Brien's father is reported to have described the story as his son's suicide note.
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on 17 November 2003
Nick Cage plays the part of Ben Sanderson, a hopelessly addicted alcoholic, whose life is now on the slippery slope to nowhere.
We see little glimpses of his former self, as a powerful Hollywood movie executive. He was once happily married, brilliant at his job, and with the world at his fingertips. But alcohol has no respect for either intelligence or social position, and Ben is now merely a shadow of his former self, and deep in the grip of his own personal demons.
One scene at the beginning of the movie encapsulates beautifully the way in which alcohol has dragged Ben down, and robbed him totally of any last shred of his self-respect.
His film producer colleagues Marc (Steven Webber) and Peter (Richard Lewis) are having dinner and drinks in an upmarket restaurant while they shoot the breeze about their latest blockbuster film project.
Ben has run out of cash, and is desperate for a drink.
He spots his erstwhile buddies, and dollar signs immediately begin to flash before his eyes. He bursts into their private conversation in a desperate attempt to cadge enough money to allow him to carry on boozing. He completely demeans and degrades himself for the paltry price of a few drinks, and what’s more he realises it. But alcohol has him in such a fierce stranglehold that he would quite literally go to any lengths to get the necessary wherewithal to buy his next glass of hooch!
His career is on the slide, and he’s eventually sacked by his boss. This is done reluctantly, and it’s plain that his boss still has a lot of regard for him, but has now been let down just once too often, and left with no alternative but to let Ben go.
It’s the last straw for Ben, who concludes that he can’t fight his addiction any longer, and decides to take his own life. But a painless death with a bottle of pills is not for him! He decides to go out with a bang. He liquidates all his remaining assets, and with the severance pay from his job heads for the bright lights of Las Vegas, where he reckons he can ‘party’ 24-hours a day without sticking out like a sore thumb.
He’s worked out a budget that will allow him to maintain his required daily alcohol intake (enormous) and the occasional fling with a hooker, and which should see him dead and buried within a few months.
But he hasn’t reckoned on falling in love!
He’s hardly landed in Vegas when he meets Sera, (Elisabeth Shue) a prostitute with a heart of gold, who falls for him like a ton of bricks. (And vice versa)
Before long she has convinced him to move into her apartment, and has even given him a present of a silver hip flask to hold the real love of his life, his beloved booze. Ben reckons he’s at last found a woman that truly ’understands’ him.
A poignant scene with Sera captures to a tee the hopeless plight of the drinking alcoholic. Sera is trying to convince him to move in with her, and he agrees, but only after making her give a solemn promise.
“The one thing you can NEVER ask me to do is to stop drinking!”
You know from the start that the relationship is doomed to failure.
Ben is incapable of sustaining any form of physical relationship. In one harrowing scene by a hotel pool, we see Sera taking off her bikini top and soaking her breasts in champagne, in a futile attempt to get Ben more interested in her body than his beloved booze.
Ben’s interested all right, but is so piss*d that he falls over, shattering a glass table and cutting himself to ribbons. Sera then proceeds to lick his wounds clean!
She loves this man so totally that she’s prepared to put up with almost anything to win his affection, and will care for him no matter what.
Elisabeth Shue gives the performance of her life as Sera.
We’re never really told how she ended up as a prostitute, working for a sadistic Russian pimp. (played by Julian Sands) She is as trapped by her lifestyle every bit as much as Ben is ensnared by his alcohol addiction, and cannot break free from the ‘easy money’ she has become used to earning.
This is no glossy “Pretty Woman” type of movie, and we see the inherent dangers of prostitution when in one gut-wrenching scene she is brutally beaten and anally raped by a bunch of college boys out for a night on the town.
The movie is directed by Mike Figgis. ( Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs) and is based on a autobiographical novel by author John O’Brien.
Incidentally, O’Brien never got to see his novel on the silver screen, because he himself committed suicide only two weeks after it went into production.
British director Figgis has brilliantly captured the futility and despair of both the drinking alcoholic and the unglamorous and dangerous life of a prostitute.
He doesn’t even attempt to introduce any “feel-good” factor, by hinting at a possible happy ending, with Sera giving up the game, and Ben getting himself ‘clean and sober’. Instead he concentrates on showing us what actually happens to over 90% of alcoholics, who NEVER get sober, and eventually end up dead from their illness.
Incidentally, Cage researched his part in the movie by actually going on a series of binge drinking sessions himself, and by talking to dozens of alcoholics in clinics all over America.

Be warned. This is not a movie that is easy to watch, and to say I enjoyed it wouldn’t be a correct assessment. It’s far to hard hitting, and it’s message far too brutal, for it to be ‘enjoyed’ in the conventional sense.
But I guarantee that you won’t fail to be moved.
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on 16 March 2015
When i first watched this film i thought it was great tragic drama. Nic cage was brilliant as this total lovable loser drinking himself to death. I was a depressed adolescent so could relate to the suicidal drama angel prostitute salvation of soul etc. The fact that he tells her never to ask him to stop drinking added to the tragedy of the film. That was over a decade ago. Now ive matured i realise how indulgent, silly and melodramatic it is. Ok its got soul but i cant take it seriously anymore. What reason does he have to drink himself to death? It says his wife left him but then he meets and falls in love with the prostitute. Surely that would be reason to stay alive. So why?? Maybe for some philosophical notion of the pointlessness of life or something. I think its a film for teenagers because it is a bit immature realy. Worth watching once tho.
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on 21 July 2004
A great movie.
This is the film that Nic Cage was born to make. It is his best performance by a mile. Unfortunately it makes watching pretty much everything else he has done frustrating as he has never hit these heights again.
The bleak premise of the film, a broken man drinking himself to death in the company of a hooker whose pimp has been killed, could put some people off. Don't be one of them, this film has a rare beauty and emotional depth.
If you want to see a love story that isn't saccharine, cliched guff then this is it.
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on 12 August 2014
I'm not here to talk about the movie. I'm sure you've read all there is to know about it and I do not wish to add to that. If I was judging this film alone it would get 6 stars. However the way it is packaged is an absolute disgrace. The sound is shot to hell: at parts in the movie it ebbs and flows, up and down. You can hardly make out what the characters are saying. Also no subtitles: an absolute necessity on ANY modern DVD. And the extras are appalling: a trailer shot in such bad quality it is almost unwatchable, and a 6 minute "featurette" obviously made by a studio asdamage limitation for spspending money on what actually is one of the all time great independent films. In short this film deserves a double disc collection set, beautifully presented, with all the xxxxs, not this waste of an opportunity.
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on 23 December 2007
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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on 24 January 2014
'Leaving Las Vegas' is a gritty, dark, yet surprisingly intimate tale of two damaged souls set against the hallucinatory backdrop that is Las Vegas. In the gleaming neon lights of the city immortalised by Elvis, an alcoholic ex-scriptwriter (Nick Cage) meets a prostitute controlled by an abusive pimp (Elisabeth Shue) and their initial drunken encounter leads to an unlikely and uneasy kinship between the two. The film is scored with boozy instrumental jazz, which evokes the soundtrack from 'One From the Heart', another 'Vegas' movie. The choice of score often treads the line between melancholic emotion and melodrama, and was panned by viewers and critics alike.

Like the bulk of his acting, Cage's performance in the film is simultaneously overblown and emotionally sincere. The unpredictability and destructive facets of Ben are further emphasised by his unwillingness to improve his own self-destructive situation. Though the character writing is fairly strong, it is mostly due to Cage's portrayal of him that the audience is able to sympathise with such a character, and the bulk of the movie gathers momentum from. It has to be said that it's a trifle unsettling to watch a volatile Nick Cage shake and shout through the movie's more dramatic moments, and it is when he reigns himself in that he really shines. It's in the less gaudy locations and situations that Cage's acting is at its best, mainly because he doesn't 'act' as hard. Whereas certain actors really become the characters they portray, in the more dramatic moments the viewer is never really sure whether Cage is his character, or whether his character is Cage, or whether the two have just combined into one. From repeated viewings I lean more towards the last choice. Elisabeth Shue's character is less showy but every bit as well realised. Sera is multifaceted, strong yet vulnerable, and although Shue's performance is nothing out of the ordinary, it is definitely strong enough for Sera to convincingly be Ben's foil.

'Leaving Las Vegas' is a moving portrayal of alcoholism as well as an exploration on loneliness, desire and loss. It is a fairly well-directed film driven by two strong performances by Shue and Cage, but which also suffers from a badly received music score. Ultimately though the shortcomings are far fewer than the positives in this 1995 film.
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on 23 October 2011
The reputation of the book that is the basis of this movie and the movie are excellent. I don't get either though I liked the book better. I have had personal contact with a number of alcoholics including a three who drank themselves to death. It seemed to me the movie made this problem seem more romantic an nicer than it is. Maybe an accurate portrayal would have been so off putting as to have no audience but I think it could have been done less romantically and still be interesting, maybe more so. Worth seeing because of its reputation, because other opinions are so much more positive than mine and to try to understand its cult following. I did not find the characters interesting, believable or amusing. Cinematography was good. It is not bad or horrible just not great. The movie is remarkably accurate in following the book.
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