Plot: What’s it about?
Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage) is not doing very well. His life is shit, for reasons we’re not sure of, but can guess. His family is gone, and from the way he looks at a photo of his wife and young daughter, it does not appear to be a good break. He drinks. All the time. Seriously. We’re talking worse than Otis from Mayberry here. Ben loses his job, is shunned by women and his former colleagues, and finally decideds to start over. Well, keep the booze, everything else changes. He puts all his belongings, save a few clothes, into garbage bags and burns them. He then saddles up, and heads to Las Vegas, to drink himself to death. Yup, the movie already seems like a real upper, huh?
Already in Las Vegas is Sera, a world-worn hooker with an abusive pimp. The pimp is not onlt abusive, but also crazy, but Sera feels a debt to him, so she stays with him. The two meet up again, and Ben forks over the cash for a night with Sera. Not much happens, as Ben is “too drunk to come”, but the two have a deep conversation, which Sera is not used to. She feels very different about this John, and Ben is well, drunk.
Sera’s pimp (Julian Sands of Warlock fame), is murdered, and Sera becomes a “free agent”, leaving her to choose her jobs and hours. She meets up with Ben again, and after a date, they decide to move in together, but only under one condition, unconditional acceptance. Ben will never ask Sera to stop being a whore, and Sera will never ask Ben to stop drinking. It’s funny, because I feel Sera would have given up her life-style, but Ben refuses, even though he admits he doesn’t even remember why he wants to die. We then watch as the two become closer, almost like a real couple, and the highs and lows in their relationship. Basically, we watch Sera get raped, and Ben fall deeper into his habit. Will they break their promise to each other, and change their ways, or will they just sit idly by as they both fall into their own personal hells even further?
This movie won Nicholas Cage the Oscar for Best Actor, and it very easy to see why. This performance is one of the all time best, Cage is eerily dead-on, so much so that is almost scary. This role put Cage on the map as a master actor, and he is yet to match the effiency he displayed in this film. The movie was also nominated for Best Director (Mike Figgis), Best Screenplay (Mike Figgis), and Best Actress (Elizabeth Shue). Shue is incredible, playing Sera perfectly, with just the right blend of world-wisdom and naivety. Julian Sands is also very good, as Sera’s pimp, but lacks the total performance quality set by Shue and Cage. Rounding out this cast are Shawnee Smith, Richard Lewis, Laurie Metcalf, and Valeria Golina, among other smaller roles. In one interesting cameo type role, Lou Rawls stars as a cab driver who has a short chat with Sera.
The movie deals with a very serious subject, alcholism, in a more-then-realistic way. It makes the subject a bit lighter by blowing it out of proportions, but the film still has a very heavy feel to it. It is very dark, with Cage progressing into worse states throughout, almost sinking a level lower with every scene. Sera’s world is not much brighter, as she gets used by man after man, and we hear her take on everything via small dialogue scenes with a shrink. The two are obviously in love, and there seems to be a destiny issue, but the circumstances of both their lives might not allow that to happen. It’s a dark topic shot in a dark manner, with little optimism. But, on the bright side, Ben has several scenes where his drunkeness provides a little comic relief, but never enough for us to forget everything else happening to him.
If you want a movie to perk you up, don’t even think about it. Leaving Las Vegas is not a happy movie, not even close. It has it’s funny moments, but they are funny because of how sad the situation is. While it’s not a movie to pop in to get a lift, it is a movie to view when you want to see high caliber acting taking on a dark, gritty story-line. It’s a great movie, with all the elements for a good night at home. I would say this is a date movie, but it’s more of a “watch with your girlfriend/wife” one, not a first date flick by any means. So set aside some time, and check this one out. You’ll be glad you did.
Video: How does it look?
Tremendous! The film is very dark at times, almost pitch black, but this great transfer allows fantastic serperation, showing every shadow level clearly. The disc offers both wide-screen and full frame, so that’s a bonus for all you crazy 1.33:1 fans out there. The movie has a grainy look to it, but it is there on purpose, so don’t fret about it. Great colors, when there are any, and no artifacts or unintended grain.
Audio: How does it sound?
This could be tricky. The movie has a strange set-up, at least I think so. Even when I saw this at the theatre, the audio was very varied, especially the dialogue. The VHS was the same way, and now the DVD continues the tradition. The movie makes me feel drunk, because of the unhearable parts, even with the volume at full-blast, turning instantly into deafening music or talking. But like I said, it has seemed this way in all formats I’ve viewed it in, so I won’t mark it down at all. This being said, if the greatly varied audio is for effect, good lord, does it deliver. A great soundtrack also helps the movie out in the audio department.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Not much. Some production notes and trivia are about worthless. The original trailer is a plus, an often overlooked, but valued feature, in my mind. The main extra is the uncut, unrated version of the movie, with extra footage put back into the movie. The case promises “explicit” footage, but it must be hidden where I can’t find it. But still, a director’s cut (so to speak) is a great extra.