Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989)



(director: Uli Edel; screenwriter: Desmond Nakano/from the novel by Hubert Selby Jr.; cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky; editor: Peter Przygodda; music: Mark Knopfler; cast: Stephen Lang (Harry Black), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Tralala), Burt Young (Big Joe), Peter Dobson (Vinnie), Jerry Orbach (Boyce), Ricki Lake (Donna), Alexis Arquette (Georgette), Zette (Regina), Rutanya Alda (Georgette’s Mother), Cameron Johann (Spook), John Costelloe(Tommy), Camille Saviola(Ella), Jason Andrews (Tony), Stephan Baldwin (Sal), MaiaDanziger(Mary Black),Frank Military(Steve), Christopher Murney(Paulie); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Bernd Eichinger; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 1989)

For the most part, Edel captures the harrowing grim tone of the book and the compassion the author had for his unsympathetic flawed characters.”

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzBased on the controversial 1964 novel by Hubert Selby Jr., and is written by Desmond Nakano. German filmmaker Uli Edel (“Time You Change”/”The Little Vampires”/”The Baader Meinhof Complex“)directs this lurid tale, with an eye for letting the misfits rule the day, that chronicles in the summer of 1952 a number of incidents in the Brooklyn working class waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook.The violent pic blends together street fights, over-the-top slapstick comedy and a few astonishingly tender moments.In episodic moments it brings together a sadistic street gang, prostitutes, striking workers, military men from the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yards embarking for the Korean conflict, homosexuals, transvestites and union big shots playing hardball.

Unscrupulous married union shop steward Harry Black (Stephen Lang) thinks he has the world by the balls as he’s made leader of the strike and uses the strike funds for his own pleasures, as he operates from a union storefront near the striking factory.Harry makes nice to the local thugs, gang leader Vinnie (Peter Dobson), Sal (Stephan Baldwin) and Tony (Jason Andrews), by buying them booze and alibiing for them to the cops after they rough-up a soldier. Through the young thugs the venal Harry meets Regina (Zette) at a party, smokes grass for the first time and has his first homosexual fling–realizing his latent homosexuality. Trouble is scabs drive trucks into the striking factory yard when he was still partying and therefore is unable to report the incident to his union boss Boyce (Jerry Orbach), who fires him for neglect of duty.

The foul-mouthed bar-hopping prostituteTralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works with the local trio of thugs in luring soldiers into a vacant lot and then having the gang members roll the johns.Tralala looks like a lost cause until she meets a naive Idaho newbie 2nd lieutenant (Frank Military), who treats her nice and promises to return for her after the war.After he ships out, thelost soul whore allows the entire neighborhood to gang-bang her on a mattress placed on the street.

Striking factory worker Joe (Burt Young), provides the comic relief for this bleak tale. When loud-mouth Joe finds out his live-at-home single overweight daughter Donna (Ricki Lake, the star of John Waters’s ”Hairspray”) is pregnant, he arranges for a shot-gun marriage between her and his nice-guy fellow factory worker, Tommy (John Costelloe), the father of the child.

For the most part, Edel captures the harrowing grim tone of the book and the compassion the author had for his unsympathetic flawed characters. Brooklyn is a metaphor for hell, where surviving the Korean conflict offers better odds than surviving the degradations of the neighborhood.