A group of prostitutes, union workers, and drag queens all lead difficult lives within an existence of drugs, crime and violence in a working class Brooklyn neighborhood.
Uli Edel’s ”Last Exit to Brooklyn” is a good, dark, uncommonly evocative screen adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s teeming novel, published in 1964, about life on the edge in the Red Hook section in the early 1950’s.
The film is an epic of the dispossessed, set in a land where it is always night and where community spirit means gang rape in the vacant lot behind the diner. The characters are the psychically down and out, the fatigued at the bottom of the food chain.
They include the moon-faced Harry Black (Stephen Lang), who beats his wife and makes love to her with equal ferocity. An unctuous, two-bit shop steward, Harry suddenly becomes a big man during a long, bitter labor dispute. Using the union’s strike funds, he buys beer, pretzels and the temporary recognition of the neighborhood toughs he admires.
For the first time in his life, Harry is popular. Also for the first time in his life, and to his complete bewilderment, he falls in love, but with Regina (Zette), a Manhattan transvestite whore. The thick-headed Harry is dazzled by a world of Champagne brunches and fancily named cocktails.
Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a tiny peroxide-blond hooker who, when she’s not turning tricks on her own, helps a small-time hood named Vinnie (Peter Dobson) and his two pals roll sailors and soldiers. Another neighborhood character is a young man called Georgette (Alexis Arquette), who plucks his eyebrows, wears frilly things under his men’s clothes and hangs around the diner hoping to catch Vinnie’s eye.
Big Joe (Burt Young), thrown out of work by the strike, is a family man who is decent at heart, but the only way he can communicate is with his fists. When his wife announces that their daughter (Ricki Lake) is eight months pregnant, Big Joe refuses to believe it. ”She’s just fat,” he says.
The Dickensian dinginess of ”Last Exit to Brooklyn” is unrelieved by hope. Its wit is savage. Like Mr. Selby’s prose, the film is vivid but remains slightly detached from the brutality it observes. In this detachment, however, there is an unusual honesty, often frowned upon by critics who believe that fiction has an obligation not only to expose corruption, but also to point the way toward moral uplift.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is a 1989 German-British drama film directed by Uli Edel and adapted by Desmond Nakano from Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel of the same name. Starring are Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stephen Lang, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, Jerry Orbach, Stephen Baldwin, Maia Danziger, Sam Rockwell, Camille Saviola, Ricki Lake and Rutanya Alda.
Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)
Directed by: Uli Edel
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stephen Lang, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, Jerry Orbach, Stephen Baldwin, Maia Danziger, Sam Rockwell, Camille Saviola, Ricki Lake, Rutanya Alda
Screenplay by: Desmond Nakano
Production Design by: David Chapman
Cinematography by: Stefan Czapsky
Film Editing by: Peter Przygodda
Costume Design by: Carol Oditz
Set Decoration by: Leslie A. Pope
Art Direction by: Mark Haack
Music by: Mark Knopfler
Distributed by: Neue Constantin Film
Release Date: October 12, 1989