Last Exit to Brooklyn

A very earnest 1990 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s celebrated short-story collection about violence and suffering in the lower reaches of Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the early 50s, directed by German filmmaker Uli Edel (Christiane F.). The stories encompassed the 40s as well, but screenwriter Desmond Nakano has attempted, with mixed results, to compress all six of them into a single tale set in 1952. By attempting to deal with street gangs, prostitution, drug use, homosexuality, and union corruption, the film ends up having a scattered, mosaic effect. The cast—including Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, and Jerry Orbach—is excellent, and Edel's stylized mise en scene purposefully frames and distances much of the action; but despite his obvious sincerity and goodwill, and the intrinsic interest of a very European handling of an American subject, the movie's bleakness and despair aren't accompanied by the unified vision that this sort of material requires—a problem that can be traced in part back to the print source, which at times wallows in violence and misery.

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