Review | Farewell to Las Vegas

Killing me is a form of drinking.

–Ben Sanderson

Farewell to Las Vegas accompanies Ben Sanderson’s drama (Nicholas Cage), a screenwriter who lost his family and took to drinking heavily. The purpose of the film is extremely clear: to paint a raw portrait of alcoholism, of how a man accepts self-destruction in favor of addiction and how his life has become as empty as the bottom of a bottle. After being fired, Ben decides to move to Las Vegas and get drunk to death, but ends up developing a strange romantic relationship with prostitute Sera (Elizabeth Shue), another person wandering through life aimlessly.

At first, I find it interesting how abrupt the work is in its dramatic composition and direction. The film begins with Ben buying drinks, and shortly after asking a friend for money to buy more drinks, then we see him drunk in a bar hitting on a woman, and so on, in a series of seemingly random sequences that replicate what we would see throughout the film: a man who lives on alcohol and suffers the embarrassing consequences. The director Mike Figgis situates us in this “universe” that Ben lives with distorted framing, the sometimes shaky camera, stunning and hallucinogenic images in the lights and outside of Vegas (perfect choice of setting), composing a whole climate of dissonance and disharmony which depicts the state of the character.

The screenplay, also by Figgis, based on a semi-autobiographical book, isn’t concerned with redemption or sentimentality, delving little into the reasons for Ben’s drinking or other dramatic layers that won’t go away. of his suicidal journey. Nicolas Cage fully understands the work’s proposition, having a realistic performance that walks between melancholy and a sense of disorientation with distant stares, great histrionics and an agonizing use of body language. One could imagine, however, that this proposal wouldn’t provide much nuance or good narrative progression, but the film is very clever in the way it tripped up the audience by making us feel empathy for Ben.

The production uses a love story to achieve this feat, using the archetype of the “whore with a heart of gold” and also a jazz soundtrack to compose a scenario with accents of romance, fun and hope. Although the passion of the characters is extremely unhealthy and co-dependent, the scenario and the actors manage to give a sense of human tenderness and sincerity to the story of the meeting of two wounded souls. Sera is interesting on her own in her arc of loneliness and violence, with Shue delivering the best performance of her career, full of sensitivity and affection.

Figgis ends up turning the narrative into a chronicle through the criminal streets of Las Vegas, full of cruelty and pessimism. But throughout the film, the filmmaker takes us into the story of love and empathy of the protagonists. We want your passion to succeed, for there to be a change in your lives and for Farewell to Las Vegas be a romance movie. But it’s not. We just get more anxious with every bottle of booze Ben lifts and more anxious every time Sera gets down to business, slowly reminding us that this is a movie with goodbye in the title and that from its first footage proclaims fate sealed and self-destruction ended. There is no redemption, but there is certainly catharsis and compassion in the final act of love between the characters, in a sequence that encapsulates the tragic poetic feeling of the work.

Leaving Las Vegas – USA, 1996
Mike Figgis
Road map: Mike Figgis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands
Duration: 111 min.

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