3.0 out of 5 starsyou can get this and two other films for less in the collection
Bytallmanbabyon 29 January 2011
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 other films, Permanent Vacation and Stranger than Paradise for less in the Jim Jarmusch Collection Vol.1 [DVD] .
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.
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. (3) if you like the style and pace of Jarmusch, dig a little deeper and watch some of the filmmakers who influenced him. John Cassavetes and Yasujiro Ozu I'd particularly recommend. (4) if you wonder "who is Jim Jarmusch?", watch Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 'Blue in the Face'. You'll get a good 5-10 minute cameo riff from the man himself on the merits of smoking. But 'Down By Law' is a great place to start. It's a top dollar showing from Jarmusch's penniless down-and-outs.
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.
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. As his career has gone on, I think his indie/art-house sensibility has become a little blunted, to the degree that, even though Night on Earth and Dead Man are both very good, and sufficiently off the Hollywood track, they were no longer compelling, and I lost interest in Jarmusch more or less completely with Ghost Dog. Hip-hop and assassins? Even though it's given the Jarmusch treatment, these are the stuff of the mainstream.
Down by Law, by contrast with Ghost Dog, is everything I love most about Jarmusch: a slow moving, rambling, character driven piece, with just enough of a gossamer thin storyline holding the seemingly disparate threads together. Waits and Lurie are both fabulous as different shades of a nonetheless similar low-rent cool-dude-cum-loser type. So self-consciously hip it's painful, and yet withal, possessed of a winning charm and charisma that makes them both likeable, and compelling: you want to know how it pans out for them.
The film also has a dreamy quality, and, for me at least, the opening sequence, a beautifully shot drive-by of a rather squalid N'awlins street, with Tom Waits' 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon' (a song whose title pretty much sums up Waits' character in the movie), is a dream come true. The photography of Robby Muller, who was also the camera man responsible for the bleak desolate beauty of Wim Wenders' masterpiece Paris, Texas is simply stunning, and, like the 'snapshot poetics' of some of America's best black and white photography (in the vein of everybody from Walker Evans to Robert Frank, through Ginsberg and Weegee to Edward Weston), distils something magical from the banal.
As well as the visual beauty, theirs the fantastic soundtrack. John Lurie, leader and saxophone player of his own art-house jazz-inflected group The Lounge Lizards (most of whom are the band who he recorded this soundtrack with), supplies a brilliantly evocative score (available in its own right here: Down By Law. The movie is also bookended by two fabulous songs from Tom Waits, both taken from his Rain Dogs album, the aforementioned 'Jockey, and, to close out the film over the end credits, the angular and wonky piano tune 'Tango 'Til They're Sore'. Waits' music inspired Coppola to build a whole movie around it (the rather odd and slightly flat One From The Heart, the Waits album of the same name being a far more successful proposition). Whilst Lurie's music is very different to Waits', the two work together to give the film even more of a homogenous character.
The chemistry between Jack and Zack (Lurie and Waits respectively), is brilliant; a love-hate rivalry, as they strive to out-cool each other. Bernigni's character is, by contrast, endearingly straightforward and unpretentious, and he becomes the comedic catalyst that binds the trio together as the go on the lamb from the law. There's some good supporting acting from the two main female characters, played by Ellen Barkin and Nicoletta Braschi, that make brief appearances in what is really an all-male buddy movie. Also worthy of note are brief turns from the fabulously named Rockets Redglare, and the rather obscure Joy N. Houck Jr. despite the apparent flimsiness of the plot-line, there's actually a lot that happens, albeit in a slow and understated manner.
All in all a very dreamy movie, and, like Paris, Texas, which was filmed only two years before, it captures a rather bleak melancholy downbeat mood that is somehow very charming. Perhaps it could be said that it captures, in cinematic terms, that Brazilian quality of 'saudade', a kind of happy-sadness, a quality usually best evoked in music, so all the more wonderful when achieved in celluloid. Brilliant!
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.
This blu ray edition is not just ruch and interesting as all the criterion stuff but present a very good hd transfer, considering the dirty, grainy and b/w photography of the film. It manages to preserve the balance between the somehow realistic yet still elegant and dreamy b/w that makes this, maybe, the best film by Jarmush. The trio is magic and Jim was so good at imagining that a musician, a singer and an italian comedian (not famous abroad then) could work so well and transfer fun, introspection and surrealism as a perfectly oiled bunch of old friends and experienced actors. Downbylaw is a world and an experience that, evety now and then, is nice to live again, once you got to know it and its suspended and unique world. My advice is to let you go with the flow, with no hurty or expectations: just sit there and wait, as they do....