Although it features crime of only the most petty sort -- drugs, prostitution, and civil disobedience -- this stylish, haunting drama is as noirish as they come. Discontentment and desperation hound these characters like a hot summer wind, while their sexual obsessions almost invariably lead to ruin. Occasional glimpses of working-class joy and humor balance out the grimness of the main story line; even when they're forced, such as the scenes involving Ricki Lake's knocked-up Donna, they give the film a richer emotional palette than it would otherwise have. Many of these lighter scenes are the invention of the production team, who took some liberties with their dark source material. For instance, Spook (Cameron Johann), the shy teenager whose crush on prostitute Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh) serves as the film's symbol for innocence, did not appear in Hubert Selby's original novel. Literary purists may therefore find fault with the film; general audiences, meanwhile, may have trouble with its gloominess. Those who can stomach the material, however, will enjoy director Uli Edel's deft balance of brutality and pathos, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky's vivid hues, and the strong performances of everyone from Leigh and Alexis Arquette to Jerry Orbach and Stephen Baldwin.
by Brian J. Dillard review