Leaving Las Vegas Review

Immediately proving that music matters, the opening of Leaving Las Vegas, with a perky bite to it, would not be out of place in a light comedy about house parties. A sunglasses-clad Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage), strutting his stuff down an aisle of alcohol, popping whatever he can into a cart. That brief moment paints a magnificent, tortured picture. He is living the high life that many wish for. Unmoderated drinking, no excuses or real desire to apologise for his actions on The Strip. Why would he? Sanderson cannot be held accountable for his desire to die, but director Mike Figgis finds some terrified comfort in that, as do his audiences.  

Those who lose it all seek the solace of comfort that cannot leave them. His friends and family have given up on him, and not without reason. Peter (Richard Lewis) gives him the money in his wallet, not for him to seek help or a ride home, but so he can drink someplace else. His embarrassment overpowers the desire he may or may not have to help his former friend. People do feel sorry for Sanderson, but it is an annoyance that is portrayed more than that of sympathy. Even then, it is up to Cage to convince us that his character is worthy of sympathy. He chugs vodka whilst driving as some smooth jazz tones suffocate the ears of the audience. Figgis’ work here is nothing short of magnificent. Stare downs with curious police officers, and once they move on it is straight back to the depths of depravity and drink for Sanderson. 

That much is shown not just physically, but technically too. Figgis goes to great lengths in making his film look bleak and rundown. The bags under the eyes of Sanderson, the trembling, sweaty features of an Oscar-winning performance shine right through. But the technical merits Figgis offers, from the supremely enjoyable soundtrack jarring with the aesthetic feel of a rundown creative hitting his rock bottom. “You did this to yourself,” a barman states. Sanderson is not beyond the realm of understanding this, and the last thing he wants is to make people uncomfortable. An absolutely masterful leading performance sees Cage spiral out of control, and with nobody around to help him but Sera (Elisabeth Shue), his reclamation of life comes far too late to last, but lasts long enough to reward him with an upsetting, if slightly happier ending than one should expect for the man. 

Happy endings aren’t realistic. Nor is Leaving Las Vegas, though. Sanderson is a fascinating specimen, downing whatever spirit he can get his shaking hands on. That much is showcased with effective detail, and as he hits that rock bottom, he finds the gutter trash that mingles alongside him. Figgis does well to blur those lives together, yet coaxes sympathy out of us with little effort. We can feel for Sanderson not just because the performer is so likeable, but because the role is so sympathetic. He is surely not a bad person and was probably a talented man holding a strong position as a screenwriter. Figgis showcases that the effects of alcoholism can and will grapple with anyone. Leaving Las Vegas works wonders, and where better to lose control than the place where it is so desperately needed? 

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