Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

This is a deeply flawed film, but unlike many deeply flawed films it has some merits. These merits stem entirely from the rightfully acclaimed performances of the two leads, Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue-both are outstanding, and Cage is in the best form I’ve seen him in in any role. His mannerisms and speech are perfect as the alcoholic protagonist; his alcoholic is neither the ‘cool’ outcast as in something like Barfly, nor is he the histrionic caricature like the alcoholic in The Lost Weekend. His portrayal is disturbingly understated, and he’s neither especially witty or idealized to any extent(at least by Cage.) For the second half of the film his pale complexion gives the impression one is looking at a zombie. Shue does her best in a fairly implausible role; she somehow manages to insert some nuance into her portrayal despite annoying scripted interludes in the film where she ostensibly narrates the film from a psychiatrist’s couch and sentimental implausible actions forced on her by the script. The script is poorly organized and the brilliance of the performances only help to underline where it caves in to convention.

Figgis also drops the ball entirely besides giving his actors free reign. He scored the film, and his light muzak jazz along with fake sounding Vegas lounge renditions of “Lonely Teardrops” blast over the film, distracting from the images and adding to the feeling of falseness. He also uses slow motion and various other visual tricks that aren’t half as clever as the film thinks they are, and yet again distract from the characters. On top of all this, occasional scenes devolve into a slow motion soft focus lightly scored purely aesthetic wallowing in the image that resembles softcore pornography. These disrupt the momentum of the film and the performances and if Figgis thought they’d help the emotional arc of film, then I fear he’s been hitting the sauce as much as his fictional protagonist.

Unfortunately Cage’s performance can’t be carved out of the muddled mess that is this movie, so whether I’d recommend this or not depends on how interested you are in film acting.

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