Mike Figgis:"Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas is the rarest of love stories that revolves around acceptance and resignation in the face of defeat, rather than salvation and emotional triumph. Bleak, morose, and doggedly determined to stick to its principles, the film was unique in its resolve to observe, rather than attempt to save, its protagonist. For this reason alone, its enthusiastic reception by critics and audiences alike was not so much surprising as encouraging: in an industry and society where happy endings, no matter how contrived, are thought to be the only way to sell a film, Leaving Las Vegas stood out as a beautiful exception to the rule. There is never any doubt that Nicolas Cage's Ben is going to go through with his plan to kill himself, nor is there any reason to believe that Elisabeth Shue's Sera will be the woman who changes him with her love. Their romance is built on mutual need, but not the need for a happy ending. Aside from the stellar work of Cage and Shue--the latter resurfacing from almost complete obscurity with her Oscar-nominated portrayal--one of the best performances in Leaving Las Vegas comes from its soundtrack. A haunting, moody jazz score composed by writer/director Mike Figgis himself, it perfectly complements the film's narrative, oozing with a graceful, understated foreboding. Rarely has a soundtrack been so intrinsic to a film's subject matter. A beautiful, deceptively reckless meditation on love, death, and the intractability of human will, Leaving Las Vegas has much in common with its central character: darkly charismatic and abiding by its own rules, it charms even as it devastates.


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