Last Exit to Brooklyn

Last Exit to Brooklyn


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Set against a squalid background of endemic poverty and union corruption, Hubert Selby Jr.'s cult novel always provoked a strong reaction; it was variously called 'unfilmable', but that was counting without the talents of actors like Stephen Lang and the underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh. Though Uli Edel's direction is stagy and awkward, the stellar cast raise this well above its melodramatic roots and create a powerful picture of the suffering of real people living without hope. When hope does enter their lives, it only makes things bleaker.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is very much an ensemble piece, and it is the host of fine performances from actors in minor roles which help to build the character of its community, the thing which really draws the viewer in. Though almost everyone we meet is on the make, there is real warmth between many of them - this is a community which will look after its own as long as they play by the rules.

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Unfortunately it has little room for outsiders like transsexuals and Jason Leigh's alcoholic prostitute, whose brief brush with the high life only serves to hasten her spiral into oblivion. Though she is unceasingly cynical and exploitative, her performance is full of humour which makes it impossible not to view her with affection. Likewise, the lonely passion of Lang's corrupt strike leader shows him as so human that one can still feel for him despite the position in which he places others. It is apparent that these people only survive by distancing themselves from the suffering of others, so perpetuating the cycle of isolation and violence.

Though unrelentingly bleak, Last Exit to Brooklyn presents a fascinating slice of American history, showcasing the plight of the poor without falling into the trap of romanticising their struggle. Packed with wit and energy, it remains involving throughout. After a long time in the wilderness, its release on DVD is a welcome treat for all those who love cinema with something to say.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2006
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Love and self-destruction amid union corruption in Fifties New York.
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Director: Uli Edel

Writer: Desmond Nakano, based on the book by Hubert Selby Jr.

Starring: Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, Jerry Orbach, Stephen Baldwin

Year: 1989

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA, UK, Germany


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