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Criterion Collection: Down By Law [Blu-ray] [1986] [US Import]

Tom Waits , John Lurie , Jim Jarmusch    Blu-ray
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
Price: £22.20
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Criterion Collection: Down By Law [Blu-ray] [1986] [US Import] + Quadrophenia [Blu-ray] [1979] [Region Free]
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Product details

  • Actors: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Ellen Barkin
  • Directors: Jim Jarmusch
  • Writers: Jim Jarmusch
  • Producers: Alan Kleinberg, Cary Brokaw, Jim Stark, Otto Grokenberger, Russell Schwartz
  • Format: Black & White, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: R (Restricted) (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: 17 July 2012
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,884 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)



Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law is in the same minimalist, oddball, black-and-white groove as his classic of American independent cinema, Stranger than Paradise (1984). The setting is Louisiana, where two losers (musicians Tom Waits and John Lurie) find themselves stuck in a jail cell together. One day they are joined by a boisterous Italian (Roberto Benigni), and the chemistry changes--suddenly an escape attempt is on the horizon. Conventional drama is not Jarmusch's intention; one of the emotional high points of this film is the three guys marching around their prison cell shouting, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" Yet the deadpan style creates its own humorous mood, underscored by melancholy (also underscored by the music of Lurie and the gravel-voiced songs of Waits). This was the first American film for Italian comedian Benigni, (Life is Beautiful), and he lights it up with his effervescent clowning. Jarmusch has said that Down by Law forms a loose trilogy with Stranger than Paradise and the subsequent Mystery Train (1989)--a triptych of disaffected, drifting life in the United States. Few filmmakers have ever surveyed ennui so entertainingly. --Robert Horton,

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buzz of to you to, thank you! 10 Nov 2003
Far from being only a story about three guys in prison, this is amazing movie. Zack and Jack and Roberto (Waits, Lourie and Benigni)are in the prison for being in wrong place at wrong time, and maybe a bit because of doing wrong things. The story of escape is developed through the rich play of characters (no Speed-like actions... graciously, just people in time). My personal highlights: All of Tom Waits. Looking at the window drawn on the prison cell wall. I-screaming. Roberto's story of his dreams of his mother catching a rabbit. Terribly funny and inspiring.
Of course, when you dig Jarmusch, Waits, Lourie, Benigni.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Jarmusch manual 7 May 2005
By randolfff VINE VOICE
Jarmusch is often consigned to the critically lazy category "acquired taste". His films are usually slow-paced, seemingly directionless, often focusing on dead-beats, outsiders, foreigners and other socially marginalized figures. As he's said himself, if he see's a character taking a phonecall and arranging a meeting, a cut, then the meeting itself, he wonders what the character might have done in the interim to amuse himself. Was he bored? Nervous? Did he watch some tv? Sing along in scat to a crackly jazz record on the radio?
If these kind of questions interest you, most likely Jarmusch will. 'Down By Law' is a visual treat, a fact quickly prefaced by its opening shots of New Orleans, seemlessly concluded with the final, symmetrical frame of the protagonists going their separate ways. If the performances are very natural but also very idiosyncratic, that might be because John Lurie and Tom Waits are principally musicians, not actors. And because Roberto Benigni genuinely knew very little English when the film was made.
The music, and the story, are enchanting, surprising and resistant to full narrative closure or an obvious moral. Benigni was not then the worldwide star he is today, and he has to fight on screen for air-time. It's worth the wait when the master comic raconteur gets going.
So here are some tips:
(1) if you like Benigni in this, check out a later Jarmusch film 'Night on Earth'. He gets a full half-hour solo as a chattering taxi driver. More adult than 'La Vita e Bella'. Funnier too.
(2) if you like John Lurie and Tom Waits, listen to their music. Between them they've scored a subtantial amount of Jarmusch's oeuvre. Lurie also stars in 'Stranger Than Paradise', an earlier Jarmusch film.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moody, atmospheric, brilliant... 2 Feb 2006
By Martin
This is one of the best films I have ever seen. The photography is stunning throughout, atmospherically filmed in b&w, capturing both the seedy side of New Orleans in the 1980s and the beauty of the Louisiana bayous. It is essentially a black comedy about the interplay between the three central characters (Tom Waits is Zack, the unemployed DJ, John Lurie is Jack the small time pimp and Roberto Benigni is Bob, the wacky Italian tourist) who for dubious reasons all find themselves thrown together in a New Orleans jail. The film is beautifully understated - there are many periods when nothing much is happening, but it's magnificently enacted, adding comic tension, creating extra dynamic between the characters. The director, Jim Jarmusch said about the film: "I would call the style of the film 'neo-beat-noir-comedy', with a story line that openly accepts conventions and an atmosphere that is part nightmare and part fairy tale" That about sums it up. If I had to single out just one favourite passage it would probably be Bob's "rabbit" monologue - watch out for it - it's simply genius. A totally fantastic, hilarious film. Pass the popcorn and let's see it again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars i ham a good egg! 11 Mar 2005
this is a wonderful little film, typical Jarmusch and i was not disappointed.
the region 1 dvd offers a lot of extras such as an extensive Q&A with Jarmusch about the film, interviews, Cannes promo, and another more humourous Q&A with fans about anything Jarmusch related and much much more.
the film itself is in my opinion his masterpiece, riffing on jaques becker's le trou and taking it into some odd comical fantasy elements.
tom waits, john lurie and roberto benigni are perfectly cast as trio of misfits who end up in prison and somehow manage to escape and find their way to safety.
robby muller's cinematography is wonderful and there is real depth and beauty in it that colour would never have brought out.
be warned if slow character driven pictures are not your thing then this might not be for you but if you enjoy that sort of thing you will be greatly rewarded.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars not enough space to swing a cat 4 Feb 2004
By A Customer
Roberto Benigni amazing English skills are a must together with Tom Waits' painfully messed up DJ character and John Lurie as the good looking but deceived pimp. The best film I have seen in a long time - and still my favourite.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Watch - You'll Enjoy This! 15 Jan 2014
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This delightful low budget, indie film, was made in 1986, but remains so watchable. Firstly, the cinematography is strikingly different and the black and white film is crisp, clear and looks wonderfully natural.
It is full of downbeat emotions and scenarios but still quirky and funny and somehow uplifting.
The opening scenes of the architecture of the down town New Orleans buildings are very eye-catching as is the stark, minimalist cells at the prison. The griminess of the bayou swamps would of course have looked better in colour, but perhaps it adds to its dankness?
The comedy is provided by Roberto Begnigni (Roberto) but the dead pan responses from his two other escapees blend in perfectly.
The prison scene is caught perfectly when the chirpy Roberto draws a window on the cell wall. He asks his cell mate, excitedly, in his broken English, "Do you say in English, looking through the window or looking out of the window?
His cell mate only too aware of what their predicament is and that there's unfortunately no window to look out of, dryly says in an uninterested and deadpan fashion, " I think that's looking at the window!"
This is typical of the dry / black humour of the film. There's a wonderful scene at the end, in a little café which is in the middle of nowhere, when the effervescent Roberto falls instantly in love with the lovely looking café owner. He has this very sexy and exhibitionist dance with her whilst his two mates look on a bit bewildered and embarrassed - great scene, among many. An excellent film; I really enjoyed it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Swamped
Floppy-haired Tom Waits is Zack, an out-of-work DJ in New Orleans, whose girl - Ellen Barkin in a far too brief role - throws him out, after which he gets framed for a killing. Read more
Published 7 months ago by GlynLuke
5.0 out of 5 stars swimmer
the person I bought it for at christmas really appreciated it and said they had thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend
Published 19 months ago by swimmer
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, grey & magical masterpiece
The photography is great. The music is genius. The actors are awesome. The story is very original. The director is amazing. Read more
Published on 6 Sep 2011 by ATB
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Oddball Gem
This is, for me at any rate, easily one of Jarmusch's best movies, with Mystery Train and Stranger Than Paradise being my other two top picks from the director. Read more
Published on 26 May 2011 by Sebastian Palmer
3.0 out of 5 stars you can get this and two other films for less in the collection
I'll not disagree with any of the nice things that people have said about this film, it is really wonderful, but at time of writing you can actually get Down by Law along with two... Read more
Published on 29 Jan 2011 by tallmanbaby
5.0 out of 5 stars A STUDY OF ENNUI
Published on 3 Sep 2010 by A. Hussain
3.0 out of 5 stars Down by Law, not quite!
As an avid fan of Jim Jarmusch, I find 'Down by Law' not quite up to the mark. Which mark?... The Jarmusch mark! Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2010 by BarringtonD
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourites, if not the best!
If you like Benigni or like good movies, then this is a must!
Published on 16 Mar 2004 by StrayDog
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