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USA 1989
Directed by
Uli Edel
102 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Last Exit To Brooklyn

Last Exit To Brooklyn is a trenchantly bleak, near-Boschean,vision of Brooklyn in the early 1950s. The tellingly detached direction, quality production design and fluidly noir-ish cinematography combine seamlessly in a film that is the antithesis of the terpsichorean romanticisation of  working class life offered by West Side Story (1961) with no doubt some audiences, with good reason, feeling that it goes too far in the opposite direction, perversely wallowing in urban gutter life.

Cleverly adapted by Desmond Nakano from Hubert Selby Jr's 1964 episodic novel, the story, which is set in the Brooklyn working class waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook at the height of a protracted strike, follows the misadventures of  a pathetic union shop steward Harry Black (Stephen Lang) with delusions of small-time grandeur who discovers his latent homosexuality thanks to group of transvestites while a gang of local street louts (Peter Dobson, Stephan Baldwin) and Jason Andrews) use the charms of the tarty Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to lure soldiers into back-lots where they rob them. A second, comedic strand concerns striking stevedore Joe (Burt Young) and his efforts to marry his pregnant, single and overweight daughter (Ricki Lake), to a fellow worker, (John Costelloe), the gormless father of the child. Jerry Orbach plays a union official who sees through Harry's weakness and sacks him with tragic results.

Despite the tawdriness and brutishness Edel captures Selby's identification with the lost souls that people his world (which is also that of Elia Kazan's On The Waterfront,1954) and with effective performances by Leigh and Lang in the main roles Last Exit To Brooklyn will resonate with those who have an appetite for the bleak but will be a turn-off for those who do not.




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