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Leaving Las Vegas (Blu-ray Review)

Wow, two seriously messed up relationship films in a row for this humble reviewer must be a record! (Betty Blue would be the other one) That’s okay, because when it comes to Blu-ray my gluttonous tendencies know no bounds.  Years before he would actually be considered insane in some circles Nicolas Cage was out there doing serious character study pieces.  Cage even won an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Actor in Leaving Las Vegas and Elisabeth Shue would also be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.  When both leads are nominated and win then you know they’re a powerhouse duo not to be messed with.  So how does the Leaving Las Vegas Blu-ray compare to their performances overall?  Let’s take a trip to Sin City and find out! 

Film  

Leaving Las Vegas is the story of Ben Sanderson (Cage) who is an alcoholic super agent on a downward spiral.  So far down in a rut is Ben that after he is let go from his company that he gets rid of all his worldly possessions, (mainly unread scripts) and hits the pedal to the metal to Las Vegas.  His goal: Drink himself to death.  Literally.  While in Vegas he meets Sera (Shue) who is a, for lack of a better word, a prostitute with a heart of gold and secrets of her own.  Pretty Woman she is not.  She is hot, though.

When Ben and Sera meet it’s as if they’re looking into a mirror of sorts.  Ben is trying to kill himself by drink and Sera is slowly killing herself by sex.  She’s got plenty of scars and they’re not just of the emotional kind.  Ben has his own demons, but that’s what Leaving Las Vegas never tells or shows us.  When the film starts you are just uncomfortably thrown into Ben’s world of wheeling and dealing, but all Ben is doing is drinking!  I want to know what made him start to drink himself into oblivion.  Sera, you get to see what her motivations are as she is all but a piece of meat to be given to out of towners (and gangsters) that are looking for a good time by her abusive pimp Yuri (Julian Sands).

As Sera and Ben carry on their relationship they both know that they cannot stop doing what they are doing.  It’s their self destructive behavior that keeps them together.  They’re not allowed to question each other in terms of what they can and cannot do.  Ben can drink non-stop without Sera telling him he has to stop and Sera can turn tricks without Ben telling her to stop.

It’s the scenes that happen in between the sex and the drinking that really drive the film home.  In watching Nicolas Cage play this tormented drunk it reminded me somewhat of his scenes in Werner Herzog’s amazing film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. I like Cage when he plays insane type of characters It just gets awkward when he plays pathetic characters.  If Elisabeth Shue were not his yin to her yang I don’t think the film would have worked.  There are very disturbing scenes of violence and self destruction that are not for the squeamish.  Watching Ben pound booze the way he did made me hurt a little.  Drinking in moderation be damned.

Don’t get me wrong, Leaving Las Vegas is a great film, but very depressing and bleak.  The Blu-ray has been presented in an UNRATED version which probably includes more sex and violence.  This was the first time I saw it, so I cannot say what was or wasn’t included.  If you’re brave I’d say give it a shot.  It’s been a LONG time since Cage has done work of this caliber.

Video 

Leaving Las Vegas is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen.  Leaving Las Vegas was shot for less than 4 million dollars, but you wouldn’t know it.  It was shot in 16mm, but looks like 35mm.  There’s a grainy look to the film throughout the picture and there is a bit of softness here and there.  Flesh tones look great and Ben looks positively awful.  The clarity of Blu-ray really brings out the look of illness in people.  Colors are also glitzy and bold.  Las Vegas looks great.  Bits of dirt and scratches were not overly present.  Considering the source I’d say that Leaving Las Vegas looks good for a sixteen year old low budget film.

Audio 

Leaving Las Vegas is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1.  This soundtrack is pretty strong.  Dialogue is easy to understand even in the most crowded of bars, lounges, restaurants, and casinos.  I had no problem with what was being said.  The jazz infused score was composed by writer/director Mike Figgis and it sounds really good coming through the various channels.  The surrounds really take to what The Strip has to offer.  Even the LFE gets a kick in the pants during the scenes of onscreen music.  This is an above average sound presentation.

Special Features 

Zilch.

Final Thoughts 

Be warned, Leaving Las Vegas is a very dark film, and this Blu-ray release is hindered by the lack of special features.  The film is up there in terms of acting ability and story, but in retrospect I cannot see Nicolas Cage doing something like this now.  Leaving Las Vegas takes us back to a much simpler time when he wasn’t just doing it for the paycheck.  This is worth owning, but depending on your tastes may not have that much of a replay value.  Students of film should pick this up, though, because it did get a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.   It’s valid just for that.

 

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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