Down by Law Reviews

Page 1 of 66
Super Reviewer
½ June 15, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2011
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.
Super Reviewer
September 6, 2010
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.
Super Reviewer
½ May 24, 2009
Had to watch it for a film class. Semi-interesting.
Super Reviewer
December 25, 2009
Down by Law is a comedy about three "innocent" men breaking out of prison. The important thing is not the escape, it's the trail of situations that they leave behind as they go. Jarmusch's humor consists on portraying with amazing naturality the awkwardness of the interaction between these three inmates who may or may not like each other very much, but who are too concerned (or at least so they think) with safekeeping their privacy and getting out to give each other much thought.
Cool is a basic word. And a basic theme. Not only are these scenes written and filmed with a great sense of 'coolness', which translates as the perfect distance between the spectators and the characters, but the two American characters themselves are consistently preoccupied about remaining, at all times, cool.
Jack (John Lurie) and Zack (Tom Waits) live in New Orleans; Jack is a pimp and Zack is a DJ. Both seem to lead lives that could be very torrid, but they are, on the contrary, kind of bored with them. In a very Jarmusch style, they need a change. And they find it traveling, although not quite as they might have expected: both get accused of crimes they didn't commit. They could defend themselves, but they don't, because they just don't care, so they get sent to prison. They share a cell in which their two strong-minded personas clash over and over, until an odd Italian named Roberto -the one real criminal of the trio- gets locked in with them.
Roberto's loud, careless personality gives Jack and Zack a jolt, and puts them in a concealed state of complicity to amuse themselves with him -but not too much, of course. However, soon they find that Roberto has a plan to escape. And so they break out and start a tedious yet hilarious journey across the marshes and dirt roads of Louisiana. All the while wearing suits that read Orleans Parish Prison.
The truth is that Jack, Zack and Roberto don't appear to regard each other very much. They don't show any signs of really caring, except when they're caught up in discussions about absurd subjects. Their journey develops as they make sudden, impulsive decisions about where to go after a fight. These are the moments that can make you laugh out loud: not quite the situations, but the attitudes, their ridiculous efforts to project leadership, and how they always end up getting pulled together into disaster despite their wish to go separate ways.
Of course, by the end, there's a bond between them that many miles of disagreements couldn't possibly have prevented. But the great thing about how Jarmusch depicts this is that he never addresses it directly. It shows by the end in the way they insult each other -they couldn't just all of a sudden engage in a group hug!
Without a doubt, Down by Law has a terrific screenplay. Roberto Begnini has the funniest, most absurd lines, but Jack and Zack's characters have all the necessary bite and self-consciousness -and cool- to become equally engaging characters. However, almost the same amount of credit has to be given to Begnini, Tom Waits, and John Lurie, for their excellent facial expressions, comedic timing, and overall smoothness. Although one could probably guess Jarmusch tailored the characters especially for his friends, it isn't less true that they reciprocated the honor with their best performances.
There's a great deal of talent involved in this movie, combined -fortunately- with elegance and a clear head. John Lurie's music, Tom Waits's songs, and the brilliant cinematography make this film a stylistic gem. It's so helplessly Jarmusch. So helplessly cool. An entertaining story of human interaction, just like Stranger in Paradise, but with a slightly more cheerful, or at least defined, outlook.
Super Reviewer
April 21, 2008
Want to see what New Orleans used to look like, Great shots, of NO in the Sixties. Really enjoyed seeing gas prices 32 cents. Facial expressions in prison worth the watch, feel this way when talking to one of my Female freinds at times. Ha. To expensive for my collection.
Super Reviewer
April 26, 2007
Endlessly watchable. Benigni is the shit in this movie.
Super Reviewer
May 25, 2007
The thing I really like about Jim Jarmusch's films is that are almost always like contained worlds, completely down to earth and true to life, and he also excels at shooting in distinctly American settings. This film is no exception. In it is the story of three inmates; Tom Waits as Zack, John Lurie as Jack, and Robert Benigni as, well, Roberto! It's the very cool, and often hilarious, story of three different people stuck in one place, who then have to work together when Roberto finds a way to escape the New Orleans prison they've been put in. Having Tom Waits starring in your film can never be a downside, and Roberto Benigni is absolutely hilarious - "I scream-ah, you scream-ah, we all scream-ah for ice cream-ah" - I really like John Lurie too, who also starred in the excellent Stranger Than Paradise; and like that film, Jarmusch's writing and directing excels when working with three main characters, it really is a perfect number to work with. If you like Jarmusch at all, check this sucker out.
Super Reviewer
April 23, 2007
Waits is perfect.
Super Reviewer
February 9, 2007
It was pretty good. It was all artsy and in black and white. And it had cool music.
Super Reviewer
November 5, 2006
Tom Waits in a prison break movie. The Ice Cream scene is classic.
Super Reviewer
½ June 4, 2006
Jarmusch offers a restrained, and quieter movie, than the American films that fill multiplexes, the most obvious being the omission of the jailbreak itself. This allows the film to focus on the characters and their growing friendship in their cell, and as they escape through the bayou. Like all films that focus on friendship there are problems along the way, but unlikely friendships blossom in the end. The black and white photography is simply stunning, giving a crystal clear look at the bleak lives of these three individuals. "Down By Law" is a simple, quiet, and brilliantly made film. It isn't trying to prove anything, and it is through its own modesty that greatness really shines.
Super Reviewer
½ October 21, 2011
The follow up to Jarmusch's acclaimed Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and another original character study. Down By Law utilizes Jarmusch's typical black and white photography and uses it to great effect throughout the film. This time we follow three protagonists who are jailed (two of them on false charges) and the relationship that unfolds between them. Zack who is an out of work DJ accused of murder when he's hired to drive a car that happens to conceal a body in the trunk. Jack is the other and he is a pimp that is setup by a competitor and takes the fall. The third unmentioned man whom the other two are put in a cell with Roberto, an Italian immigrant, charged with murdering a man. The film really focuses on the traits and personality of these three men both in jail and more so after they breakout. There is a healthy dose of comedic overtones as well as hostility between the men, usually Roberto having to play the role of peacemaker. The film with all its chaos and very intricately detailed characters makes for a well done character study. This is one that you will walk away with a smirk on your face.
Super Reviewer
November 29, 2011
Jim Jarmusch is the king of cinematic understatement. His films -- at least, his early ones -- are always composed of long takes, nuanced characters and rambling dialogue, and they never really seem to be headed anywhere. "Down by Law" is in glorious black-and-white (courtesy of cinematographer Robby Muller) and features understated humor at its finest. John Lurie, Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni are great as Jack, Zack and Bob and give us one of the best movie trios of all time. Basically, the film itself is nothing more than these the lives of these characters before, during and after their time in prison, and it's just as enjoyable as Jarmusch's previous effort, "Stranger Than Paradise."
Super Reviewer
November 3, 2010
A treasure. A famously influential film. One of my favorites. The work of a born filmmaker.
Super Reviewer
August 21, 2009
Magic Jim Jarmusch movie. Black and white, unbelievable music. Comical and revealing alike. "It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop"; "Life is a limbo dance but it's a question of where you get down not how low you can get" - these things are literally written on the walls. Surprises arise everywhere. Not much action, but no need for it. It's not about doing things, it's about the world and the people in it."It's a sad and beautiful world" states Roberto (Benigni!) and shortly after that he lands in jail next to Jack and Zack. Those two have been framed, but Bob (that's short English for Roberto) confesses in his terribly sweet accent: "I killed a man. (...) But I "ham" no criminal. I "ham" a good egg". All his English knoledge are in his notebook, from which he gives out samples when he feels like it: "If looks can kill, I am dead now", when he got into the cell and the others were "observing" him, or the famous "I scream-a, you scream-a, we all scream-a for ice cream-a". He doesn't like the prison: "No good here... for me. Is, uh... Is... Not enough room to swing a cat"; and because the others don't seem to enjoy the joke, he explains further: "Cat. The animal". He finds a way out and, after facing the waters (the big attempt, he's the only one who can't swim) a reward awaits.
Super Reviewer
May 31, 2009
After the initial establishment of character and atmosphere, the laughs come thick and fast, most notably from the marvellous Benigni.
Super Reviewer
½ March 10, 2008
The screaming for ice cream was really a moment.
Super Reviewer
½ August 12, 2006
Good early Jarmusch. Benigni steals every scene.
Super Reviewer
½ December 7, 2006
I knew nothing about this movie going into it, but I knew I wanted to watch a Jarmusch movie at some point, and I was definitely not disappointed. Down By Law looks and sounds like a Tennessee Williams play and goes down real slow and steady in its Big Easy setting. The blues music adds to its noir-ish, seductive charm. I can only describe this as a prison-break buddy film, but what a rich buddy film it is. Roberto Benigni (pre-La Vita e Bella) is a wonderful comic foil for the two brooding cons Zach (Tom Waits) and Jack (John Lurie), and their reluctant friendship is a beautiful thing to see in its spontaneity and almost utter improbability. We don't know anything about why these guys were set up, how they managed to escape, and what happens after, and frankly, I don't care. The movie is absolutely gorgeous in its tracks and pans and intriguing angles, and New Orleans comes alive under Jarmusch's direction. In the commentary, he said he had never been to New Orleans before making this movie, but it doesn't feel that way. Watch this!
Page 1 of 66