Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is a much-honored film about the brief bonding of a prostitute and a suicidal alcoholic planning to leave Las Vegas—and life—by drinking himself to death.
Nicolas Cage won a Best Actor Oscar playing Ben, a compulsive drinker who needs a city that represents his losses. Specific details are less important than the overall sense of desperation for Ben and Sera, a prostitute he meets (played by Oscar-nominated Elisabeth Shue). The two create a relationship that on the surface has big plusses—they accept each other wholeheartedly without demanding change. The tragedy is that both desperately need change.
Director Mike Figgis refuses to pander to audience and box office needs for redemption and happiness, creating a moody and haunting tale. Using high-definition 16mm film that was later blown up to 35mm, he and his small crew moved fast and avoided disrupting traffic, working outside the Las Vegas permit system and filming much action in Laughlin, Nevada. The guerilla technique, film stock, and eye of cinematographer Declan Quinn contribute to an appropriately dark look for a difficult, yet compelling, tale about getting out.
Las Vegas is the consummate setting for the fine acting and creative approach that make Leaving Las Vegas rewarding despite its downbeat tone.
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