Tuesday, September 18, 2012

746. Down by Law (1986)

Running Time: 107 minutes
Directed By: Jim Jarmusch
Written By: Jim Jarmusch
Main Cast: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Ellen Barkin
Click here to view the trailer


Screw Netflix and thank God for YouTube! Since Netflix can't seem to remove their head from their pooper, I took to YouTube in search of "Down by Law" and wouldn't you know the video hosting site came through, once again.

"Down by Law" is the third part of my Jarmusch "hat trick" and is set in Louisiana, revolving around three characters who end up sharing the same prison cell. Jack (Lurie) is a pimp who is asked by a "friend" to go check out a new girl, one who promises to drum up some good business. When Jack arrives at the hotel room where the girl is holed up, the cops bust in on him before he can get a good look at her and when the light comes on it is revealed that the girl is underage. It doesn't look good for Jack and he is promptly arrested. Then there's Zack (Waits), an unemployed disc jockey who is kicked out by his rambunctious girlfriend. While sipping on a bottle, down on main street, Zack is approached by a "friend" who offers him $1000 if he'll drive a car from point A to point B. Down on his luck, Zack accepts the deal and when the cops pull him over they find a dead body in the trunk - Zack, much like Jack, is promptly arrested. The two wind up, as I said, sharing a prison cell and despite the fact that they don't always get along, share a bond as two guys who were framed for the respective crimes. Enter criminal #3, Roberto (Benigni), an Italian tourist to America who was sent to prison for accidentally killing a man with a billiard ball. He doesn't speak the best English, which is why he carries a small tablet in his breast pocket, filled with American phrases and sayings ("I screama, you screama, we all screama for ice creama!"). Inside, the three men bicker back and forth, in between playing cards and talking about their lives on the outside.

I think, all in all, I preferred "Stranger Than Paradise" to the other Jarmusch offerings from THE BOOK, but "Down by Law" comes in as a fairly close second. It has more of a plot than STP and perhaps that's it's downfall. I preferred the plainness of STP and the way that all you had to do was just observe the actions and interactions of the characters. In "Down by Law" there's a little more to it than that and there are also a couple more flaws than in STP. For starters, Jarmusch takes a little too long to get into the meat and potatoes of the story, leaving us to sit through a good thirty to forty minutes before we even get into the prison cell, which is where the magic happens. Jarmusch could have easily cut down the opening act, getting us inside the prison quicker and allowed his actors to flourish in what viewed like improvised interactions between Lurie, Waits and Benigni. It's a small gripe, but one that would've helped the picture flow just a little bit better. I'm nitpicking folks, bear with me.

But hey, you know what this film had that "Stranger Than Paradise" didn't? Roberto Benigni! Man, this guy made the movie for me. What an actor he is and what a hilarious guy. And hey, I can't discount Tom Waits' involvement either, for he also did a fine job and what is it about musicians that just seem to work in Jarmusch movies. Add John Lurie to the mix and you have a threesome that is really hard to dislike. I don't know what else to say. This is a fun film that I don't think a lot of people have heard of. If you want to really impress your film snob friends and have a good time doing so, rent "Down by Law", enjoy it and then go tell them of the little, independent feature that you discovered.

RATING: 7/10  If you're still thirsty for Jim Jarmusch check out "Night on Earth", "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Broken Flowers", all excellent offerings from an excellent filmmaker. FYI - I have never seen "Mystery Train", "Ghost Dog" or "The Limits of Control".


Beverly Hills Cop (1984 - Martin Brest)
A Room with a View (1985 - James Ivory)
Three Brothers (1981 - Francesco Rosi)
Chariots of Fire (1981 - Hugh Hudson)

September 18, 2012  1:00am

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