Although once a successful screenwriter, when Ben Sanderson’s (Nicolas Cage) good thing comes to an end, he takes it badly. With no job, no wife and no son, Ben decides all he wants to do is move out to Las Vegas where he intends to drink himself to death. During his first night there, he meets Sera (Elizabeth Shue) who is a lonely woman with a destructive relationship with her pimp/lover, Yuri (Julian Sands), who is yet another lost soul in Las Vegas with his own more dangerous criminal problems. Ben and Sera make a non-interference pact with each other, and decide they will live alongside one another for whatever time they have together, however this will inevitably be harder for Sera as it means she will ultimately have to watch Ben die.
Leaving Las Vegas is a film that I really enjoyed, however it’s certainly not one to watch if you want your mood lifting at all. It is all told from the point of view of Sera during a therapy session as she opens up to us about her life in Las Vegas, both with and without Ben – something that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at various points throughout the film.
Now, people who have only seen his more recent work will struggle to believe it, I know, but Nicolas Cage has an Oscar on his mantelpiece and it was for his performance in this film that he won it. He was tremendous as tormented Ben, and gave one of the most moving performances of his career. There were times it was difficult to watch as you new that all the man needed was some help and that might possibly have meant he survived the film, but at the same time, he felt he had nothing to live for and would be happier drinking his days away in Sin City. It was sad to think that that was the only future he saw for himself, but at the same time, it does reflect the way that many people feel about their situation in life, and also how they choose to deal with it.
Elizabeth Shue was just as wonderful, only her performance was slightly more affecting as not only did she start off alone, but Sera also ended the film on her own as well. There is, of course, also the fact that the whole story is effectively told by her as well, and it is evident through her storytelling that Sera is a good character, and always will be no matter what hardship life throws at her.
Despite always being one of the first to throw their hands up and say they’ve little time for soppy romance in films, there was something beautiful about the love Ben and Sera had for each other – whether that be their friendship in general or the mutual understanding they both had for each other’s desperate situation, and their lack of desire to change a single thing about each other. In my eyes, there was just something that was so lovely about all of that, and it’s probably why the ending worked so well when it came.
Overall, Leaving Las Vegas is effectively a heartbreaking love story that takes place between two complete strangers who go onto become best friends, but it is so well done that even people like myself who have little or no time for too much of the lovey-dovey stuff will surely fall for it.