This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995) is not a love story, although it feels like one, but a story about two desperate people using love as a form of prayer and a last resort against their pain. It is also a sad, trembling portrait of the final stages of alcoholism. Those who found it too extreme were simply lucky enough never to have arrived there themselves.
Few films are more despairing and yet, curiously, so hopeful as this one, which argues that even at the very end of the road, at the final extremity, we can find some solace in the offer and acceptance of love. The movie tells the story of Ben and Sera, played by Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. He is a Hollywood agent, she is a prostitute. Although prostitutes can be a cliché in the movies, and those with a good heart even more so, the details of their relationship leave clichés far behind, and the movie becomes the story of these specific characters and exactly who they are. There is also the truth that a man in Ben's condition would be unable to begin any relationship without paying for it.
Ben is in the final stages of an alcoholic meltdown. We watch as he asks a friend in a bar for a loan and is told bluntly: "Don't drink it in here." We sense his loneliness and need in his attempt to pick up a woman in a bar: "I really wish you'd come home with me. You smell great and you look great." We see him being fired from his job, and agreeing that he should be fired, and telling his boss the severance check is too generous. Then he burns all of his possessions, and there is a curling photograph in the fire, which seems to come from a failed marriage. He moves to Las Vegas with the intention of using his severance to drink himself to death.
Cage's performance in these early scenes is an acutely observed record of a man coming to pieces. He shows Ben imploding, rigid in his attempt to maintain control, to smile when he does not feel a smile, to make banter when he wants to scream. Heneedsa drink. During the movie, Cage will take Ben into the regions of hell. There will be times when he has the DTs, times when he must pour booze into his throat like an antidote to death, times of nausea, blackouts, cuts and bruises. There is a scene in a bank when his hands shake so badly he cannot sign a check, and we empathize with the way he tries to function, telling the bank teller whatever he can think of ("I've had brain surgery"). Yes, sometimes, he feels better, and sometimes we can sense the charm he must have had (we sense his boss' affection for him even as he's being fired). But for Ben these moments are not about pleasure but about the temporary release from pain.