Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands | Director: Mike Figgis | Producers: Lila Cazès, Annie Stewart, Marc S. Fischer, Stuart Regen, Paige Simpson | Screenplay: Mike Figgis, from a novel by John O'Brien | Released By: MGM/UA
This film is praised as a sad tale, excellently done. I’ll agree with that. It’s basically a two-person story. Nicolas Cage won an Oscar, and Elisabeth Shue was nominated for one.
Stung by life’s reversals, Ben Sanderson (Cage) becomes an alcoholic. Canned from his job, he burns all his bridges, liquidates his assets (no pun intended) and goes to Vegas with the express intent of drinking himself to death. Meanwhile Sera (Shue) has also gone to Vegas, perhaps to get away from her pimp Yuri (Julian Sands) who sometimes uses a knife on his girls. Though Yuri follows her, he’s eventually rubbed out in a mob dispute, and Sera gets her wish—she’s now a “self-employed” hooker.
Starting with a chance encounter, Ben and Sera’s relationship blossoms as each accepts the other “unconditionally” (well, not quite). Ben has little interest in sex and supposedly won’t be jealous of Sera’s “work”. Sera will bite her tongue and never ask Ben to stop drinking. Within those boundaries, they assuage each other’s loneliness as best they can.
There’s some violence including rape, assault, and implied murder. Language is extreme, including Sera graphically describing her “work”. There’s nudity in an opening scene at a strip bar, and eventually some nudity and sexual contact between the two principal characters.
The underbelly of Las Vegas is shown realistically here, as it is in several other films. Gambling, prostitution, glitz, broken dreams. At least we see one conventioneer (military character actor R. Lee Ermey) who’s not interested in a “date” with Sera. That’s refreshing. I’ve been to Vegas on business and have not only been propositioned a few feet from my elevator in Caesar’s Palace, but have also had to wade through the army of hustlers that line the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard, each handing out the photo and phone number of a different hooker. And some of the cab drivers try to steer male customers not just to adult entertainment but to particular establishments (probably the ones that give the highest kickbacks). It all gets annoying after awhile.
I’ve seen enough “R” rated films that I could handle the sexual content here. But I nearly turned this film off, due to the depressing realism of cage’s addiction. Yes, it’s well done—TOO well done.
There’s one glaring flaw in the film: the “unconditional” relationship between Ben and Sera is portrayed as love. It’s actually more of a lonely hearts club. Look closely—they’re each in the relationship for what THEY can get out of it. Biblically, “love” means wanting the best for the OTHER person and doing whatever is in your power to provide it. Agreeing not to stop someone from killing himself is NOT love. God loves US unconditionally, and because of that He GAVE… that we might NOT PERISH (die) (John 3:16). Real love is tough when necessary, not wimpy. Our entire society has a mixed up definition of love, and the film just reflects that confusion.
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