During a labour strike in the early 1950’s in the gritty streets of Brooklyn, Harry Black (Stephen Lang), the leader of the strike office falls suddenly in love with a sensual transvestite and while he struggles to deal with this swift change in his life, his wife and child are neglected at home. On the same streets Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a lost soul who works as a hooker, tries to trick soldiers and other drunken males of their money. Intertwined with Harry and Tralala, other people in the same neighbourhood struggles with various personal problems and issues. The connecting thread is the desperation for love and confirmation…

“Last Exit to Brooklyn” is a 1964 novel by American author Hubert Selby, Jr. The novel has become a cult classic because of its harsh, uncompromising look at lower class Brooklyn in the 1950s and for its brusque, everyman style of prose. Although critics and fellow writers praised the book on its release, “Last Exit to Brooklyn” caused much controversy because of its frank portrayals of taboo subjects, such as drug use, street violence, gang rape, homosexuality, transvestism and domestic violence. It was the subject of an important obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was banned in Italy. There had been several attempts to adapt “Last Exit to Brooklyn” into a film prior to this version. One of the earliest attempts was made by producer Steve Krantz and animator Ralph Bakshi, who wanted to direct a live-action film based on the novel. Bakshi had sought out the rights to the novel after completing Heavy Traffic, a film which shared many themes with Selby’s novel. Selby agreed to the adaptation, and actor Robert De Niro accepted the role of Harry in Strike. According to Bakshi, “the whole thing fell apart when Krantz and I had a falling out over past business. It was a disappointment to me and Selby. Selby and I tried a few other screenplays after that on other subjects, but I could not shake Last Exit from my mind.” In 1989, director Uli Edel adapted the novel into a film. The screenplay was written by Desmond Nakano. Selby made a cameo appearance in the film as the taxi driver who accidentally hits the transvestite Georgette (played by Alexis Arquette). Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits provided the film score. The film version received excellent reviews and won a few critics’ awards for Leigh’s portrayal of Tralala, though its limited distribution and downbeat subject matter prevented it from becoming a commercial success. Ralph Bakshi referred to Edel’s film as being “like a hot dog without mustard,” saying that the film “was done horribly.” “Last Exit to Brooklyn” puts the focus on love and the strong bond between humans, both in love relations and in family relations. The film handles also violence and the weak human nature when instincts takes over. The violence is harsh and unjustified/brutal as in real life, which is also a strength in the movie. The gang-rape of Tralala is truly emotionally strong and difficult to watch. Both Stephen Lang and Jennifer Jason Leigh is at the top of their A-game. The general vibe is gritty, dangerous, dirty, ugly and dark plus that the movie carries an “authentic” stamp all over it. Despite the fact that the movie sometimes feels a bit over theatrical. I reckon due to the fact that the director wanted to include all the different storylines and characters in the book, we get a bit of a uneven story since some characters and their stories are not as strong as Harry and Tralala´s descend into darkness. “Last Exit to Brooklyn” is a powerful piece of film for sure and it gives us a different vision of the 50´s, normally portrayed as colourful and glitzy. The movie challenges you to think about the universal things in life, about humanity and the actions taken. (4 out of 5)

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