July 15, 2011
If you like films that are gritty (yet tender), gutsy (yet touching), graphic (yet humane) and high on talent, see Director Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas.
The storyline is so simple that any lengthy reiteration would be a spoiler. Suffice to say, Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage ) is a devout, determined, dedicated, unrepentant alcoholic; and Sera (Elizabeth Shue) is a dependable, skilled, successful, bruised prostitute.
They fall fondly in love but are not truly happy with or without each other. And neither boozing nor bedding brings solace. Yet in the romance of intense affection, two lost souls briefly light each other's torch in the darkness of candescent Vegas.
Honestly, for the volume of liquid Ben drank, at the velocity at which he drank it, mere water would have killed him. Ben should have died way long before the story began.
And to afford her wardrobe, therapy and lodgings, Sera would be gratifying high dollar customers in presidential suites, not street walking for misfits.
So ignore these the incredulities and discrepancies to savor the satisfying aftertaste of a hard movie with heart.
You can guess how Cage prepped for the role - and you'd be right. He binged to perfection. Shue, meanwhile, hobnobbed with hookers.
For their exquisite duet, both actors earned entry into the hallowed halls of Hollywood's sacred performances. The right of passage for men requires that they play a great drunk; the ladies must pound the pavement.
Many good actors drank in excess on their road to success, (in the movies, I mostly mean). W.C. Fields, Richard Burton, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, Jack Lemon, Peter O'Toole, Mickey Rourke, Albert Finney, and Ray Milland among them.
Whoredom is the ticket for the ladies. Too many have gained fame, garnered awards and secured their reputation with fine portrayals of harlotry: Melanie Griffith (in Figgis's Stormy Monday), Julia Roberts, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Catherine Deneuve,
Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Jodie Foster, Chalize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jane Fonda, Joan Crawford, Giulietta Masina, Anna Magnani, Audrey Hepburn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sharon Stone, Penelope Cruz, Elizabeth Taylor, Kathleen Turner and Rita Hayworth.
Excuse me while I break for breath. The stellar list keeps growing; Kristin Stewart is coming. Even Brad Pitt crossed over and got his start at stardom as a beefcake convection-for-hire in Thelma and Louise.
Check out the kudos awarded to hooch hounds and floozies. The list is longer than mine. And then see if you don't agree that Shue and Cage rank with the better of the best.
Ironically, Shue, who was nominated for her role as a tart, lost the Oscar to a nun, (Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking, who early in her career played a lady of the night in Louis Malle's Pretty Baby.) Cage won.
Musician Figgis' music has more dialogue than the actors. In scenes where we might hear everyday conversation, the soundtrack overwhelms the chatter, distilling the movie's dialogue so that we only hear the provocative exchanges between an insatiable barfly hooking up with an enabling call girl, love not withstanding.
So the film's essence is always filtered and clarified through music. While it may sometimes overwhelm the scene, it never strays from its intent to articulate the emotions shared by an afflicted man determined to die, and a conflicted woman who wants him to live forever.
Julian Lennon, Mariska Hargitay, Lou Rawls, Richard Lewis, Steven Weber, Danny Huston and Figgis himself make interesting cameo appearances. Julian Sand (Yuri) plays an exceptional pimp, generic yet unique.
And for you second time viewers, there are explicit scenes unseen in the original theater version.
As for the Extras, there were no false promises on the DVD cover, but the movie credits listed the director of "The Making Of." As a Features junkie, I felt cheated. The major talents who made Leaving Las Vegas are alive and well, so somebody should and could have said something - or at least don't disappoint us with a credit hoax.
There are things that should have been told:
- That 34 year old John O'Brien, who wrote the novel, committed suicide two weeks after production began. Instead of closing down, it was decided to honor him with the finished film.
- That the stealth movie was made with a 16mm camera without permits or much money.
- That Figgis was nominated for two Academy Awards: directing and writing an adapted screen play.
- That Vivian Westwood designed Shue's über flattering wardrobe.
- That the sound track, replete with beautiful vocals by Sting, was written and composed by Director Mike Figgis himself. (He plays the trumpet and the keyboards for the soundtrack.)
- That the score was reworked from one Figgis initially conceived for a Ridley Scott film, but was replaced.
- That musicians Figgis and Sting began collaborating in... Hell, this is not my job.
I'll quit now so that you can get on with the film.
Director: Mike Figgis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands, Laurie Metcalf, Richard Lewis, Valeria Golino, Graham Beckel, Steven Weber, Kim Adams, Emily Procter
Length: 112 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Dolby Digital Mono
5.1 Dolby Digital
English SDH, Spanish, French