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Down by Law (1986)



Average Rating: 7.6/10
Reviews Counted: 29
Fresh: 26 | Rotten: 3

Funny, original, and thoroughly cinematic, Down by Law represents writer-director Jim Jarmusch at his most ingratiating and evocative.


Average Rating: 6.3/10
Critic Reviews: 7
Fresh: 5 | Rotten: 2

Funny, original, and thoroughly cinematic, Down by Law represents writer-director Jim Jarmusch at his most ingratiating and evocative.



liked it
Average Rating: 4.2/5
User Ratings: 21,829

My Rating

Movie Info

Jim Jarmusch follows his groundbreaking Stranger Than Paradise with another rambling, character-driven film with a twisted sense of humor. Set in a seedy New Orleans summer, Down By Law details the meeting of three unlikely convicts and their just as unlikely escape. Zack (Tom Waits) is an out-of-work DJ who is accused of murder when a body is found in the trunk of a stolen car he was hired to drive across town. Jack (John Lurie) is a pimp set up for a fall by a competitor. These two sullen


Drama, Art House & International, Comedy

Jim Jarmusch

Oct 22, 2002

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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All Critics (29) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (3) | DVD (13)

The Jim Jarmusch penchant for off-the-wall characters and odd situations is very much in evidence.

January 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

On the whole I've had more fun in Cleveland.

January 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

After the initial establishment of character and atmosphere, the laughs come thick and fast, most notably from the marvellous [Roberto] Benigni.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The excitement (of Down by Law) comes from the realization that we are seeing a true film maker at work, using film to create a narrative that couldn't exist on the stage or the printed page of a novel.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A true original that kind of grows on you.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Pure pleasure for comedy connoisseurs.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Jim Jarmusch's uneven but stylish comédie noire is an astute mixture of prison picture, road movie and downbeat screwball.

September 12, 2014 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Down By Law is oddly heart-warming, magnifying moments of unexpected camaraderie between kindred spirits who don't immediately ID each other as such.

September 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Little White Lies
Little White Lies

Down by Law is a delight, right down to the unexpected last scene.

September 9, 2014 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

Mutual irritation merges into grudging friendship, and the wit manages to be both broad and smart, soulful and silly, subtle and raucous, all at the same time.

September 8, 2014 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

Perhaps it's not what you expect from a prison movie, but Jim Jarmusch has always adhered to his own personal vision.

August 21, 2012 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

[An] odd, funny, strangely mesmerizing three-part comedy.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Stylish hipster comedy that delivers the laughs.

August 12, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Every single incident in the film is meaningful.

March 2, 2008 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

Director-writer Jarmusch's characters are insignificant antiheroes adrift in an America that is both sad and beautiful.

January 11, 2008 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Its soul is the same as all Jarmusch films, but here he digs a bit deeper into the roots of his own methodology and that to which he is opposed.

September 25, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinematic Reflections

More cheerful than Stranger Than Paradise, this movie plays a reversal on the Hollywood comedy in which a high-spirited American usually brings joy to a foreigner; here it's Italian Roberto Benigni.

June 20, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Not as good as it should be.

November 6, 2005

If you don't know anything about Jarmusch, this DVD is a great place to start.

October 27, 2002 Full Review Source: | Comment (1)

Thoroughly cinematic.

October 21, 2002 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

At 90 minutes, it felt entirely too long, but would I have wanted Jarmusch to trim it down at all? That would have killed his best jokes.

January 27, 2002 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for Down by Law

This is a prison break film, in a sense yes, but, since it's by Jim Jarmusch, it's rambling, free-wheeling, unconventional, and does it's own thing. What we have here is the tale of three men who all wind up sharing a prison cell, and deciding to make a break for it. Two of them, Zack (an unemployed DJ) and Jack (a small time pimp) were set up, and not truly guilty. They quickly come to hate one another, and prefer to spend most of their time in silence. The other, Bob (an excitable Italian tourist) is only there due to miscommunications and cultural misunderstandings. He has a love of American idioms, as well as an insatiable need to talk.

It's a weird trio, but yet, it kinda works. In a way, I don't think this film is fiction, and the actors are basically just playing themselves. It's a free form character driven piece that, among other things, is primarily about boredom. The film is slow, easy going, and spends a lot of time focusing on these guys just sitting around wasting time. It's a prison break film where the mechanics of the escape are never discussed. One day, they just do it.

In a way, I really dug this. I liked the loose, jazzy, beat flavor of it all. It's more polished than Jarmusch's previous film Stranger Than Paradise, but I think I liked that one a little more. I have the ability to sit and enjoy meandering films sometimes, but I think this one went a little too far in that regard, or maybe I just wasn't quite in the mood for this kind of thing when I sat down to watch it.

Also, after a while, Jarmusch's films all end up being essentially the same, with the themes, motifs, style and execution not really changing...kinda like Woody Allen's works. Even then, I can't help but dig this stuff.

We do get some fantastic cinematography from esteemed DP Robby Müller though, and New Orleans, and its surrouning bayous look absolutely gorgeous in crisp black and white. John Lurie's score, and Tom Waits's songs are pretty terrific too.

And so are their performances. As I said, it really feels like they're just playing themselves, and I just in general love how Jarmusch has not only a knack for casting musicians as actors, but getting people that can actually perform in a way that doesn't come off as stunt casting. This was also the film that introduced the west to Roberto Benigni, who wouldn't get mainstream attention until Life is Beautiful, but really got off to a great start here. He's a riot as Bob, even if Jarmusch sometimes lets him run on maybe a tad too long here and there. He does have great chemistry with Waits and Lurie though, and most of their many scenes of bantering about are an absolute joy.

I'm really torn on this one. On one hand, this just feels like a million other Jarmusch films I've seen before, so it's growing old on me, but then again, it's done so entertainingly that, retread or not, it's hard not to give props to. Let's just give it a high B+ and split the stars at somewhere between 3.5 and 4, and call it a day.
August 11, 2012
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

Jarmusch's greatest film in my opinion, it features great performances from the three lead roles (especially Tom Waits who is one of my favorite artists) and beautiful black and white shots of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou.
October 27, 2011
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

Yes, I did only see the beginning of this movie, but I was so bored with the beginning that I couldn't watch the rest of it.
January 24, 2011

Super Reviewer

Had to watch it for a film class. Semi-interesting.
January 7, 2010
Jennifer D

Super Reviewer

    1. Roberto: I'ma gooda egga.
    – Submitted by Mike S (2 months ago)
    1. Zack: Buzz off.
    2. Roberto: Thank you. Buzz offa to you, too.
    – Submitted by Jason S (4 months ago)
    1. Jack: Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard!
    – Submitted by Jason S (4 months ago)
    1. Zack: Yeah, Bob's real good with the restaurant English.
    – Submitted by Jason S (4 months ago)
    1. Roberto: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream!
    – Submitted by Marin S (2 years ago)
View all quotes (5)

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