Leaving Las Vegas is an extremely powerful movie. It is somewhat slow-paced, but at the same time there is a great deal of suspense. The suspense stems from not knowing how the relationship between the two main characters, Ben (Nicholas Cage) and Sera (Elisabeth Shue), is eventually resolved.
After being fired from his job, Ben leaves for Las Vegas to drink himself to death. He runs into Sera, a prostitute, who decides to be his guardian angel. The profoundness of this movie is reflected in the fact that Sera makes this choice in an active manner, in what could be described as a sign of geniune altruism. When Ben, in his drunken stupor, rejects the gift that he has just received, there is a symbolic incident of Sera punishing herself for her choices (by going into a hotel room alone with three customers). While their relationship comes off as being co-dependent, it is really Sera who needs Ben. This approach works, however, in creating a definitive and unconditional romantic relationship between the two.
The performances are brilliant, which is what makes this movie work. I found myself empathising with both Ben and Sera. Even though I don't like Nicholas Cage's presence, he, like Tom Hanks and Anthony Hopkins, manages to convince me of the role he is playing and all my prejudices go away after the first few minutes. The powerful themes in the movie aren't just due to the alcohol abuse or sexual abuse issues. What makes this movie most effective is the fact that stories like those (in terms of alcohol and prostitution) happen all around to those who live on society's fringes.
This is definitely a must-see, if you haven't already. It is a movie that will move you profoundly, perhaps even more so with the knowledge that the author of the autobiographical book upon which this movie is based, John O'Brien, committed suicide two weeks before the rights to the book were sold. Like with O'Brien's actions, the movie leaves you highly unsatisfied and frustrated due to its lack of some sort of a clean resolution. But isn't that what life is all about?