We never get to see Ben (Nicolas Cage) before he was a drunk, but we get to watch him topple from a great height and lose everything on the way down for 15 agonizing minutes before the movie even gives us the opening credits. It’s pretty much over by that point, anyway. Once he goes to Vegas with his remaining cash and gives himself about a month to drink himself to death, there’s no real question about whether or not he’ll find redemption and sobriety, not even when accommodating prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) enters his life. Think of it as a love triangle, between Ben, Sera, and booze.
Shue goes beyond the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché (for one thing, she also has a liver of cast-iron): Sera knows that Cage’s Ben will never love her more than he loves his poison but devotes herself to him anyway. Cage, at the height of his Method-ical madness, won an Oscar for not shying away from Ben’s most abject extremes. (This was back when his over-the-top-ness seemed a function of the roles he chose and not a compensation for having chosen poorly.) The lesson? Besides the unexpected one (that a wounded dignity is possible even while drinking yourself to death), there’s this tourist tip: No one in Vegas cares what you do, as long as you don’t leave too big a mess for the hotel staff to clean up.
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