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Monday, 26 June 2017

Retro Review: Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Shue, Julian Sands, Steven Weber, French Stewart
Genre: Romantic Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $32 million

Plot: 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, Sara

'Morbid Downer Drama Only Saved By The Performances'

Take Pretty Woman's premise, remove the rom-com, happily-ever-after ending, replace prim and proper looking Richard Gere with a dishevelled- looking Nicolas Cage and take away the pretty woman Julia Roberts and give Elizabeth Shue's character a more messed up and bleaker backstory and have it set in Las Vegas. And what we have is a movie, based on the semi-biographical account by John O'Brien. After selling the book's rights for it to be turned into a major motion picture, O'Brien then committed suicide. 

Leaving Las Vegas follows the trials and tribulations of Ben and Sara out in Vegas: Ben has just been fired from his job, because of his alcoholism and for not seeking treatment to kerb this problem. Afterwards, he heads off to Las Vegas in Nevada, whereby he drinks himself to death. Shortly after, he meets up with a prostitute named Sara and the two hit it off. 

A romantic drama with a not so happy ending, as much as it hammers home the dangers of alcoholism when it gets out of control, the problem I had with Leaving Las Vegas is, as wonderful the performances were by the likes of Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue (arguably the best they have given), the film is overburdened with an aggravating and gruellingly depressing tone that for some, or be it a lot of people, it leaves a bitter aftertaste, afterwards. 

In some ways also, it romanticises alcoholism whilst downplaying on the sexual aspect, which only occurs in 2 two minor scenes with Sara and Ben. 

Nicolas Cage has range, well, some anyway, as demonstrated in this film, which is unheard of from an actor, as highly well known as himself, but who had over the years seen his career take a downward spiral, after a promising turn in Raising Arizona during the mid-1980s. As for Shue, she was touted for an Academy Award Best Actress gong as Sara and whilst she has her moments and Cage bagged his Oscar for his turn (when perhaps it should be the other way round with Shue winning instead of Cage), in sitting through this film I felt a range of different emotions: sadness, at times irritation, but also the further the film went on, the more morose I felt, thanks to its dispirited tone. 

I understand that with some dramas, you need darkness to bring out the tragedy and drama, as well as the dramatic performances from the actors. Yet for the most part, but for the scenes where Ben turns to booze and he and Sara fall in love, there was next to nothing in this drama that grabbed and held my attention. In Ben and Sara, they were two people who felt stuck and couldn't find a way out of their problems. That no matter how much they tried, things do not get better for either of them. 

What holds Leaving Las Vegas back is the total lack of a backstory to Ben and Sara and very little is touched upon their individual personalities and lives, prior to their recent problems. Who were they before? How happy were they before their problems escalated? If the writer and director explained this, then Leaving Las Vegas would have made far more sense to the viewer. 

Though all credit for this film in not being another Pretty Woman-type of film and of which doesn't take the Disney way out, in terms of its handling of romance and prostitution, but still, movie-wise, it is too sobering for my tastes, too much sadness and bleakness for a movie about two 'doomed' and destructive people, who one wants to see them happy, and yet they far from get their happy ending. 

Then again, this is a downer film about a doomed romance. 

Final Verdict:

This is not an easy movie for me to sit through in its entirety, as I usually don't do downer films like this, with a tone as bleak as this and it's not one for people who aren't into incredibly bleak movies. And Leaving Las Vegas was painfully bleak, irrespective of the impressive performances by Elisabeth Shue and Nicolas Cage. It was so momentously grim - and yet I still managed to see right through it to the bitter end. 

As 'hooker with a heart of a gold' movies goes, I'd still take this over Pretty Woman, because it doesn't treat the subject matter of prostitution as a whimsical, lovey-dovey type of thing that tries to be something it isn't. Having said that, this was grim viewing and this is by no means an escapist type of movie. 

As compelling as the melodrama was in places, not to mention the performances, in the end, Leaving Las Vegas's overriding, yet morbid and intense tone left me in a state of mere stupor and desolation. 


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