Dir: Uli Edel, 1989
Based on Hubert Selby, Jr’s book of the same name, Uli Edel’s adaptation did what they thought couldn’t be done.
The 1964 novel is incredibly explicit in its depiction of sex, violence, language, rape and homosexuality. Inevitably, there was a huge controversy surrounding the book all over the world. In Britain, it was even banned for a time.
Often labelled as a book that could never be filmed, Edel, successfully, transposes the themes and characters from Selby’s story onto celluloid, proving the naysayers wrong.
In a 1950’s working class Brooklyn, unions, closet homosexuals, soldiers, transvestites and prostitutes all live a life of misery, decay, violence, sex and gang rape.
Neither the source material or adaptation of Last Exit To Brooklyn has a coherent storyline, merely presenting several (largely) unconnected tales with the only link being the neighbourhood in which they reside.
Whereas the book is split into chapters, thereby separating the characters and their stories, the film removes this angle and has it all play out, with the stories having an occasional interaction. Edel has done an excellent job in allowing the stories to flow together without ruining the essence of the book.
Lead guitarist and frontman of rock band Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, provides a sombre and melancholic, yet fitting, score. His moody tones serve to underscore the rot and decay of life, suffered by its characters.e
The cast are phenomenal and do exceedingly well, especially in a film of this nature. Highlights must go to actors Stephen Lang as the union man, Harry Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh as prostitute Tralala.
Taking a bold step, Lang portrays the closeted Harry with confidence and isn’t afraid to step out of the comfort zone that many (if not the majority) of actors dare not tread.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is admirable as the beaten and downtrodden hooker. Playing her with a sad realism, Leigh puts herself through the paces and subjects herself to a brutal and vicious gang rape that is still as raw and uncomfortable today.
However, the film is incredibly heavy and depressing which can easily turn you off. Last Exit To Brooklyn is a film that you need to be certain about watching. To be fair, the book is instills a feeling of decimation and hopelessness that director Edel captures perfectly.
Translating the book to a cinematic adaptation is no easy task. Graphic and explicit, depicting the scenes written in the book would, undoubtedly, have caused severe censorship problems, akin to those experienced in 1964. But, Edel shows great skill in showing the brutality without showing us too much. For a novel like this, it would have been so easy to wander into exploitation territory, intentional or otherwise.
With his eye on the ball, the director navigates the horrors and taboos that feature so prominently in the book, depicting a revulsion sans the grotesque.
A very well made and exceptional film that does the book justice, but also a downbeat one that encompasses the viewer with despair and a disengagement, similar to what the characters feel.
Uli Edel has achieved what is expected of a director by allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the world of Last Exit To Brooklyn.
Definitely worth seeing.