A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Oh, this movie is so sad! It is sad not because of the tragic lives of its characters, but because of their goodness and their charity.
What moves me the most in movies is not when something bad happens, but when characters act unselfishly. In "Leaving Las Vegas," a man loses his family and begins to drink himself to death. He goes to Vegas, and there on the street he meets a prostitute, who takes him in and cares for him, and he calls her his angel. But he doesn't stop drinking.
The man's name is Ben (Nicholas Cage). The woman's name is Sera (Elisabeth Shue). You will not see two better performances this year. Midway in the film someone offers Ben the insight that his drinking is a way of killing himself. He smiles lopsidedly and offers a correction: "Killing myself is a way of drinking." At one point, after it is clear that Sera really cares for him, he tells her, "You can never, ever, ask me to stop drinking." She replies in a little voice: "I know." The movie is not really about alcoholism. It is about great sad passion, of the sort celebrated in operas like "La Boheme." It takes place in bars and dreary rented rooms and the kind of Vegas poverty that includes a parking space and the use of the pool. The practical details are not quite realistic - it would be hard to drink as much as Ben drinks and remain conscious, and it is unlikely an intelligent prostitute would allow him into her life. We brush those objections aside, because they have nothing to do with the real subject of this movie, which is that we must pity one another, and be gentle.
Ben was a movie executive. Something bad happened in his life, and his wife and son are gone. Is he divorced? Are they dead? It is never made clear.