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Last Exit to Brooklyn Reviews

Red Hook, Brooklyn, 1952: Korea-bound conscripts, sadistic teenage gangs, and despondent strikers eke out their desolate existences amidst a frenzied mixture of prostitutes, psychos, winos, and junkies. Based on a collection of short stories by Hubert Selby Jr., which unleashed a storm of controversy upon their publication in 1964, German director Uli Edel's film is a relentlessly bleak account of life in the neighborhood during a brief period in the summer of '52. The stories of a cross-section of characters is recounted in episodic fashion. Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a prostitute who picks up tricks in sleazy bars and lures them to rubble-strewn vacant lots where they are mugged by ex-convict Vinnie (Peter Dobson) and his gang of thugs. Harry (Stephen Lang) is in charge of the local strike office, enjoying his position of power, but troubled by his awakening homosexuality. Georgette (Alexis Arquette) is an effeminate, tormented gay who lusts after Vinnie. Big Joe (Burt Young) is a striking worker who is upset over the pregnancy of his unmarried daughter Donna (Ricki Lake), while his motorcycle-obsessed son Spook (Cameron Johann) pines for Tralala. In blending the personal worlds of these characters into a complete cosmology of the abyss, director Uli Edel (CHRISTIANE F.) and scriptwriter Desmond Nakano have transformed Selby's episodic book into an aesthetic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Moreover, Edel's and Nakano's efforts are just part of what was clearly the engaged teamwork of a group of gifted people committed to doing justice to Selby's uncompromising vision. Lang and, especially, Jason Leigh, are standouts in a terrific ensemble cast.