Leaving Las Vegas (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 18, 2011 by  

While “Leaving Las Vegas” on Blu-ray is a barebones release and not the best looking film on HD (since it was a low budget film shot on Super 16mm), Mike Figgis’ masterpiece is a film that should be watched.  It’s a dark romantic film that may not be for everyone but it’s a non-traditional, unique film that I have to recommend watching and even owning on Blu-ray.

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TITLE: Leaving Las Vegas


DURATION: 112 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono, French Dolby Surround, Subtitles: English SDH, French

RATED: UNRATED (Note: This is the unrated uncut version featuring explicit footage not seen in theaters)

COMPANY: UA/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc./Twentieth Century Fox

RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2011

Directed by Mike Figgis

Based on the novel by John O’Brien

Screenplay by Mike Figgis

Producer: Lila Casez, Annie Stewart

Executive Producer: Stuart Regen, Paige Simpson

Line Producer: Marc S. Fischer

Music by Mike Figgis

Cinematography by Declan Quinn

Edited by John Smith

Casting by Carrie Frazier

Production Design by Waldemar Kalinowski

Art Direction by Barry Kingston

Set Decoration by Florence Fellman

Costume Design by Laura Goldsmith


Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson

Elisabeth Shue as Sera

Julian Sands as Yuri

Richard Lewis as Peter

Steven Weber as Marc Nussbaum

Kim Adams as Sheila

Emily Procter as Debbie

Valeria Golino as Terri

Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his drinking, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera.

Nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Director”, “Best Writing, Screenplay” and “Best Actress”, Mike Figgis’ (“One Night Stand”, “Time Code”, “Stormy Monday”) 1996 film “Leaving Las Vegas” was adored by film critics and was successful in the box office.

The film would be known for elevating the career of Nicolas Cage (“Con Air”, “The Rock”, “Face/Off”) who would take home the Academy Award and “Golden Globe Award” for “Best Actor” and would also earn Elisabeth Shue (“The Karate Kid”, “Cocktail”, “Back to the Future” Part II and III) her first Academy Award nomination.

“Leaving Las Vegas” would also be an inspiration for many Indie filmmakers as the low budget film (created for a budget of $4 million) which was shot on super 16mm would feature Figgis composing the score for the film but also shooting in Las Vegas via guerrilla filmmaking because permits were not issued, he shot certain scenes on the Las Vegas strip in order to avoid police.

“Leaving Las Vegas” is a film dark romantic film about two individuals who live destructive lives.

Ben Sanderson (played by Nicolas Cage) is a Hollywood Screenwriter who is an alcoholic and literally has lost his family, friends and his job.  Depressed and suicidal, he decides to go to Las Vegas and drink himself to death.   While driving drunk on the strip one night, he nearly hits a high class prostitute named Sera (played by Elisabeth Shue) and she is very ticked off at him.

Meanwhile, Sera has a relationship with an abusive pimp named Yuri.  But when Yuri is in trouble with Polish mobsters, he breaks his relationship with Sera.

So, the following day, Ben runs into Sera again and offers her $500 for an hour, but she is shocked that he doesn’t want to have sex with her.  He just wants companionship for him to share his misery with her and also someone who will not try to save him or prevent him from killing himself.

Both individuals share a common bond and that is the fact that they are both in misery and both are lonely.  And from this point on, both have an urge to see each other for companionship and both really want to love each other but both have destructive lifestyles, Ben and his alcohol and Sera with her prostitution.

Can both find love?  Or will their loneliness and misery lead to their demise?


“Leaving Las Vegas” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1).  It’s important to note that this was a low budget film shot on super 16 mm, so that means that you are not going to get the clearest picture as some are used to on Blu-ray.  As expected, the grain of the film is much more evident in HD and the film does have a look of being dark and dreary, which actually fits the film and its characters.

Once again, because this was shot on Super 16mm, do not expect the best picture quality but for the most part, compared to its DVD and previous video counterparts, this is the best looking version of the film to date.


“Leaving Las Vegas” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Mono and French Dolby Surround.  The film is primarily a dialogue driven film while the surround channels are used for the musical score.  There are times where scenes with crowds are utilized for ambient noise but for the most part, the lossless soundtrack’s highlight is the crisp and clear dialogue and its jazzy score.


“Leaving Las Vegas” comes with one special feature and that is the theatrical trailer.

Unique, powerful, bleak and devastating… there are many words to describe “Leaving Las Vegas”.

A film that defies traditional romance films from Hollywood by approaching the romance film from the dark underbelly of two destructive characters.  Characters that are reminiscent of a classic Marco Ferreri and Nagisa Oshima film where misery finds company and in the case of “Leaving Las Vegas”, we have two people who seek companionship because they are both headed towards the path of destruction.

“Leaving Las Vegas” is a film that shows you that independent film, low budget films can be powerful and magnificent.  In the case of director Mike Figgis, this is a man who took John O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical novel and turned it into a masterpiece.

There is no doubt that O’Brien’s novel was his suicide note.  The Hollywood screenwriter shot and killed himself two weeks after “Leaving Las Vegas” was made into a movie but it’s not the death that Figgis concentrates on in the film, if anything, it’s the love story between two miserable individuals and both Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue gave memorable and magnificent performances.

A love story that is untraditional as you have two characters that you really don’t root for.  You just wonder how each can go farther down as they both have destructive lifestyles.  Ben Sanderson is a man who is going to die and no one is going to change his mind about it, but if there is one thing that he does want, it’s to spend those final moments feeling love from a person who share his misery.  Cage plays the character excellently as we see symptoms of an alcoholic within Cage’s character, trembling, erratic and if anything, we see how this tormented individual slowly die.

Sera is a complex individual that she sees herself as a classy high-class prostitute but one scene where she sees Ben with another woman, you sense her insecurity.  It’s important to note that this Blu-ray release also contains the uncut version not show in theaters and you literally can see how badly her life as a “high class” prostitute is.   Shue did a lot of research for her role but it’s not the performance of a hooker that makes you sympathize with her, it’s the fact that of these two screwed up individuals, one at least has a chance to fix their life up but also for the fact that she is a “hopeless romantic”.  Her love is hopeless and she knows it.

While it would have been nice to have special features on this Blu-ray, while it is a barebones Blu-ray release, it’s also the uncut version of the film.  And because this film ranks high on my list of “fucked up movies, one should see in their lifetime” (and with that being said, this film may not be for everyone), the fact is that this film is a film worth watching and has one of the most clever endings, most satisfy ending that I have seen for a bleak romance film.

Highly recommended!


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