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Taken from Hubert Selby, Jr.'s controversial novel. A gallery of characters in Brooklyn in the 1950s are crushed by their surroundings and selves: a union strike leader discovers he is gay; a prostitute falls in love with one of her clients; a family cannot cope with the fact that their daughter is illegitimately pregnant. Written by
Serdar Yegulalp <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ralph Bakshi had made a previous attempt to direct the film, a production he was to co-produce with Steve Krantz and author Hubert Selby Jr. Actor Robert De Niro accepted a major role in the film. However, the project fell apart when Bakshi and Krantz had a falling out. Bakshi and Selby became friends, and, according to Bakshi, they "tried a few other screenplays after that on other subjects, but I could not shake Last Exit from my mind." See more »
Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) is based on the book by Hubert Selby Jr. about a group of working class during a labour strike in early 1950's in the gritty streets of Brooklyn. German Uli Edel directed this and Desmond Nakano wrote the screenplay. Stephen Lang plays Harry Black, the leader of the strike unit and Jennifer Jason Leigh is Tralala, a lost soul who works as a hooker for the various soldiers and other drunken males that use the services of the hookers drinking beer and acting dirty. The film explores the forms of love and how desperate we are for it, because living without it is not too easy or even possible as it belongs to being a human being.
The film opens with a line from the Bible which thickens the theme of the film and the above thing I wrote. Soon we get introduced to the main characters who don't seem to be too happy. Harry doesn't care about his wife and child but seems to be very attracted by a sensual and very attractive transvestite who lives with other transvestites in their own apartment while the "straight" prostitutes are mainly in the streets. This relationship between Harry and the transvestite(s) is very great and emotional and depicts the nature of love and caring as it doesn't always involve just different sexes together. Just watching Harry's eyes when he first sees his new interest in the street shows how powerful cinema can be without one single word.
Another important character is of course Tralala and she is also involved in the film's harrowing and almost unbearably sadistic and ugly end scene that finally (or what happens after that) makes the film a very strong experience. She is completely lost even though she meets a nice sailor who truly falls in love with her even though Tralala doesn't understand it at once. She understands it during the end scene as well as the meaning of the crying boy she first gets to meet during the act. Last Exit to Brooklyn explores love and caring between human beings and how strong it can be. Tralala wouldn't survive without the motorcycle boy, or she would live the rest of her life in pure emptiness and void.
The film handles also violence and weak human nature desperate for sex and other of his instincts. The violence is very harsh and off putting and the film's view of life is dark to say the least. Violence is here as unjustified and brutal as in real life, too, and maybe that's why so many seem to dislike the film and its honesty saying it is "unpleasant and repellent".
The sets are very impressive and the atmosphere in this film is all the time like the actors could any minute start singing and dancing their lines! This creates also a very strong feel of danger and "clock ticking" as the workers and strikers wait for the decision by the authorities and it is like it is night all the time. The film feels like a depiction of the world's last day that still may not be the last but no one knows it yet for sure.
Equally great with the photography and sets is the music by Mark Knopfler. The beautiful theme is played during the film restrainedly and it makes the strong events and situations even stronger, as always a great soundtrack does. The very conclusion is pretty optimistic and again the music makes it look even brighter and hopeful. Some characters didn't manage to learn before it was too late, but at least those who did have a chance for a better tomorrow.
The major negative sides in the film are in the occasional restlessness as the writer tried to give us more information than it was necessary. I mean mostly the scenes involving Burt Young character's family tragedy with all its screaming and shouting and crying. These scenes are not too powerful but more irritating as they could have been different. The characters' motivations are not always clear and sometimes they seem to develop too fast. What they tried to express through screaming and horrible noise should have been done more aesthetically and with the tools of the art and much more effectively.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is a powerful, challenging and at the end, beautiful film about the most important and universal things in life and about humanity, and it is also a great film visually. This is very powerful drama and only few steps from being a nearly perfect masterpiece. 8/10
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