It isn’t getting nearly the attention of last week’s “Back to the Future” Day, but Tuesday marks another milestone in the career of Elisabeth Shue: It’s the 20th anniversary of the release of “Leaving Las Vegas.”
The story of Ben (Nicolas Cage), who drank himself out of his Hollywood job and is trying to drink himself out of existence, and Sera (Elisabeth Shue), the Las Vegas hooker who’s so desperately alone that Ben seems like a good idea, is beautifully heartbreaking. And it remains one of the quintessential Vegas movies. Even though a lot of it was filmed in Laughlin. (Still, there are some great shots of the Strip, including the bygone Algiers, Barbary Coast and La Concha.)
Despite a budget so small that director Mike Figgis had to shoot some of the Strip scenes guerrilla-style without permits, “Leaving Las Vegas” boasted a killer soundtrack, featuring the likes of Sting, Don Henley and Michael McDonald, alongside the score, which Figgis composed himself to save money.
While Figgis won an Independent Spirit Award for his directing — he also was nominated for writing and directing Oscars, a Golden Globe for directing and honors from the writers and directors guilds — “Leaving Las Vegas” was, first and foremost, an actors’ showcase. It remains the best thing either of its stars has ever done.
For the second entry in his Vegas trilogy — bookended by 1992’s “Honeymoon in Vegas” and 1997’s “Con Air” — Cage trembled, staggered and sweated his way to an Oscar, as well as a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award.
Shue took home an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Oscar, a Screen Actors Guild award and a Golden Globe. (She lost the first two to Susan Sarandon for “Dead Man Walking” and the third to Sharon Stone for another iconic Vegas movie, “Casino.”)
Years later, the actors would return to Las Vegas: Cage moved here in 2012, the same year Shue joined “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, take a look at the “Leaving Las Vegas” trailer, Cage winning his Academy Award and behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot: