Down by Law (1986)
Critic Consensus: Funny, original, and thoroughly cinematic, Down by Law represents writer-director Jim Jarmusch at his most ingratiating and evocative.
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as Detective Mandino
as Young Girl
as Cajun Detective
as Uniformed Cop
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Critic Reviews for Down by Law
The Jim Jarmusch penchant for off-the-wall characters and odd situations is very much in evidence.
After the initial establishment of character and atmosphere, the laughs come thick and fast, most notably from the marvellous [Roberto] Benigni.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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