Brooklyn in the early-to-mid fifties, and the community is suffering under the strike at the dockyard which has been going on for months with no end in sight. The shop steward for the union is Harry Black (Stephen Lang), and he is well known in the area for his rabble-rousing ways but recently has been taking his eye off the ball because he is embezzling petty cash from the union funds for his expenses. That is not all he should be worried about, as he is also finding his latent homsexuality beginning to emerge, so where will that leave him?
How about as a Jesus Christ stand-in for his final scene? Was that in Hubert Selby Jr's original novel? That book had been scandalous in its day, prosecuted in the British courts for one thing although it was eventually allowed to be read by the public, so as with all such controversial efforts a film version seemed an inevitability. And so it arrived, after some years in development, to some acclaim but not much in the way of box office receipts, suggesting if you really wanted to hunt down this material the most popular method would be to read that source book and not spend about an hour and a half with someone else's interpretation.
Although this Last Exit won the approval of Selby himself - he appears in a brief scene as a driver - fans of his work were not quite as impressed, although the fact they managed to bring it to the screen at all was an achievement in itself. It was not simply Harry's predicament which concerned us here, as there were other threads of plot to deal with too, all woven into a tapestry of degradation: mainly the stories of Burt Young's Big Joe, whose teenage daughter is about to give birth and the father doesn't know, having impregnated her on a one night stand; and Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a prostitute with a heart of lead.
These characters may have leaned towards the irredeemable in the book, but in director Uli Edel's movie he seemed intent on striking a note of hope in spite of much of the setting being closer to Hell on Earth than some kind of purgatory where you could emerge into salvation after your trials and tribulations. Nevertheless, that's where it all ends up, and if you couldn't accept that a set of narratives such as these could have the cheek to work themselves into a happy ending, then take a look at this. The theme was that once any character experienced something approximating pure love, that was their cue to be humiliated in the most personally harrowing manner possible.
Therefore Harry rejected his wife when she didn't do it for him anymore, and fell into the arms of a male prostitute who eventually rejects him when he turns needy, and Tralala meets a soldier who falls for her, offering an alien emotion to her which she cannot process, thereby leading to the infamous gang rape finale which we're meant to see she partly welcomes. Meanwhile that infernal style made itself plain in such scenes as the strike riot which looked to be taking place amongst the souls of the damned as the cops turn the hoses on them one night, and violence ensues on a grand scale. Trouble was, Last Exit to Brooklyn as a film had a very high opinion of itself, as if it was speaking profundities about the human condition when really it was seeing how extreme it could get while still allying itself to what, evidently in their opinion, was a literary classic. For that reason its pretensions to art played down the more deliberately revolting aspects, pulling this in two not entirely successful directions. Music by Mark Knopfler.
German director who deals in sometimes controversial subject matter. His first film was 1981's intense drug drama Christiane F , which brought him international notoriety; his next feature was the equally controversial Last Exit to Brooklyn. The erotic thriller Body of Evidence (with Madonna) was one of 1993's most derided films and most of Edel's other work has been in TV, including episodes of Twin Peaks, Oz, Tales from the Crypt and Homicide. Also directed the family hit The Little Vampire, true crime story The Baader Meinhof Complex, rap turkey Time You Change and Nicolas Cage horror Pay the Ghost.