Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic, drives to Las Vegas after being fired from his film production job with the intention of drinking himself to death within four weeks.
In Vegas he meets Sera, a self-assured young prostitute, and, with each pledging not to try to change the other’s chosen destiny, they fall in love and carry on a romance over Ben’s last weeks.
While Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) fascinated the heavyweight critics and Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995) was trawled across the tabloids, this agonising study of alcoholic self-destruction from director Mike Figgis quietly impressed film-goers across the board with its uncompromising honesty and exceptional performances.
Nicolas Cage won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of the failed Hollywood screenwriter, and just as memorable was Oscar-nominated Elisabeth Shue as the prostitute who befriends him.
Shooting in Super 16mm, Figgis strips away the gaudy glamour of Nevada’s temptation capital, revealing it to be nothing more than a tawdry, neon-lit tourist trap that exists solely on dashed hopes, broken promises and guilty secrets.
As sobering an experience as cinema can provide, this is downbeat all the way, but the sensitivity of the direction and the authenticity of the acting also give it a curiously redemptive feel.
R Lee Ermey
Bartender in biker bar