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Down By The Waterfront
Last Exit to Brooklyn (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
Last Exit to Brooklyn (DVD)
Advantages: Nicely shot and good acting
Disadvantages: Very downbeat
Set as the title suggest in a rough neighbourhood in Brooklyn the story follows the lives of some of its people. ‘Tralala’ is street whore that makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with one of her clients a young soldier bound for the war in Korea. Big Joe is the factory worker whose young daughter is unmarried and pregnant. He goes through his life solving problems with his fists. Harry Black is the docker’s foreman outwardly ‘macho’ but inwardly coming to realise his homosexuality. The impending Dockers strike and the continuing war in Korea rocks the community and it is difficult to find a light at the end of the tunnel in the lives of these desperate people.
CAST, PERFORMANCES & OPINION
Stephen Lang .... Harry Black
Jennifer Jason Leigh .... Tralala
Burt Young .... Big Joe
Peter Dobson .... Vinnie
Jerry Orbach .... Boyce
Stephen Baldwin .... Sal
Directed by German director Uli Edel who came to wide attention for his hard hitting portrayal of drug abuse in ‘Christiane F’ (1981) this film is an equally stark and brutal examination of the low life of 50’s New York.
All the characters are flawed and many are hard to like. Both in the look of the film much of which is set at night the wet sidewalks reflecting the brash neon street signs along the dirty streets and in the representation of the main characters the film paints a bleak picture of life. An underlying tension pervades through all the scenes and violence is never very far away. There are some very shocking scenes in this film none more so than the climactic end.
Not having read the original novel on which the film is based I cannot comment of how faithful the film is to its source. The subject matter is heavy going and there are few laughs to be had. It could be compared to an earlier classic ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954) which also dealt with corruption both institutional in the form of the unions and moral. Just like in ‘On the Waterfront’ the films shows the failure of dreams in the face of the harshness of real life. ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’ is however a much darker film and ultimately this unyielding sense of hopelessness does represent a problem with the film.
The acting is uniformly good especially Jennifer Jason Leigh as the stone hearted prostitute who is shocked and confused to find that anyone could actually fall in love with her. Her relationship with the young soldier on his last few days of leave before going off to fight in Korea, which starts on her part as just another ‘trick’ is key to the story. She recognises and understands the feelings of lust that the soldier shows her, this is within her frame of reference but when he actually proclaims his love she is lost. She is soon forced to look at herself in a new light and ultimately she can’t cope with the reality with which she is faced. Early in her career Jennifer Jason Leigh developed a penchant for playing down trodden abused young women often with severe psychological problems and this role certainly fits that mould. As and actress she can play tough aggressive characters but there is always a hint or vulnerability and unstableness deep within which makes her a perfect choice for the self-destructive Tralala.
Stalwart character actors Burt Young and Jerry Orbach play their more stereotypical roles equally well but it’s Stephen Lang as the closet gay foreman that matches Leigh in giving the best performance of the film. Lang shows the conflict that Harry Black feels when he surrendered to his natural gay sexual inclinations. This is an extremely homophobic community and within the macho world of the dockers this turns to hatred. Black is a product of this society his feeling towards homosexuals have been conditioned in the same way has his peers and yet he knows he is gay and is shamed by it. It’s a pity that Lang film career failed to take off in later years.
Desmond Nakano who later went on to write and direct the racial reversal movie ‘White Man’s Burden’ produces an intelligent screenplay full of quickfire dialogue and emotional tension. The most striking aspect of the film are the visual exploration of the run down neighbourhood by use of light of lack of it being most effective when the action take place in the derelict looking docksides. The only time the film lightened up literally is when Tralala spend a day in town with her young soldier but we know that this will not last.
‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ is an emotionally challenging film. The characters defy you to sympathise with them and in the end their plight does win you over. It is a bleak brutal film that will not be to everyone’s liking. There is strong sexual content and quite explicit violence although neither is ever gratuitous always being in context to the plot. The 18 certificate is certainly deserved as it deals with such adult themes in such an uncompromising way. As I mentioned earlier due to its setting and storyline it does invite comparisons with ‘On The Waterfront’ the difference being that at its core ‘On The Waterfront’ does have retain some hope for the lead characters and there is redemption at the very end. ‘Last Exit…’ is remorselessly downbeat and this makes it a tough watch despite its fine performances, intelligent screenplay and striking visuals.
Recommended but you have to be in the mood and be prepared for some violent scenes and strong language.
© Mauri 2006
Summary: Bleak and brutal story of a small community in 50's Brooklyn