Leaving Las Vegas

on October 27, 1995 by Kevin Courrier
   Screened at Toronto. This raw and unrelenting portrait of a man (Nicholas Cage) who gives up his desire to live by drinking himself toward oblivion in Las Vegas and of a street-smart hooker (Elisabeth Shue) who clings to him in a desperate need to find reasons to live is the most difficult kind of film to pull off. In pictures like "Days of Wine and Roses," "Barfly" and "When a Man Loves a Woman," the temptation is to offset boozing's ugliness with a story of redemption. In "Leaving Las Vegas," writer/director Mike Figgis strives not to capitulate to that tired -and-true formula.
   The movie is at its best (and most daring) when Figgis explores the raw intensity in both characters' conflicting and mutual desires without apologizing for their behavior or making moral claims on their souls. Cage's performance, which begins too far into the stratosphere, eventually deepens; he somehow turns this drunken sod's plight into a state of grace. Elisabeth Shue doesn't go soft, either -- her toughness is both a shield and a sword -- and her character comes to horrifying truths in brilliantly directed set pieces.
   However, the score is a huge blight on the proceedings. Figgis incessantly lays on a funky mood-music track, including some pop and jazz classics, which conventionally labels the characters as romantic losers and sentimentalizes their fate. (It momentarily makes you think you're at a modern German film retrospective.) Otherwise, "Leaving Las Vegas" is one of the most boldly original dramas of the year. Starring Nicholas Cage, Elisabeth Shue and Julian Sands. Directed and written by Mike Figgis. Produced by Lila Cazes and Annie Stewart. A UA release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and language, violence and pervasive alcohol abuse. Running time: 112 min
Tags: Starring Nicholas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands, Directed and written by Mike Figgis, Produced by Lila Cazes, Annie Stewart, UA, Drama

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