21
Jul 04

There is no shortage of adaptations that suffer from comparisons to their source material, but Uli Edel’s misguided Last Exit to Brooklyn suffers more acutely than most.

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There is no shortage of adaptations that suffer from comparisons to their source material, but Uli Edel’s misguided Last Exit to Brooklyn suffers more acutely than most. I’d hate to think that any novel is unfilmable, but perhaps I just like a challenge. Edel tries too hard to carve a more traditional narrative out of the wasted detritus of Selby’s oppressive Brooklyn, and the attention to detail which made the book so compelling/repulsive is drowned out almost entirely. The potentially explosive set-pieces culled from the book (such as Tralala’s final bout of drunken exhibitionism or Harry’s crucifixion) aren’t enough to sustain this scattershot view of 50’s hell as a story. They flounder as plot-markers, and it’s frustrating because you can too easily see how they could have retained their original power, had they been given room to develop.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is indeed impressive, only ever allowing the slightest glimmer of morality to shine through all the promiscuity and assault. Unfortunately this isn’t enough, in an adaptation that has failed to capture the book’s all-pervading sense of nihilism and anxiety. Without hitting the dreadful lows of the book, it doesn’t really feel like the film is about anything, at least nothing interesting enough to maintain interest and justify the violence. And the less said about the contrived ending the better. Although I suppose a contrived ending is the least that could be expected from a film that ties up a loose-end of a character by simply running them over.

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