Down by Law (1986)

R  |   |  Comedy, Crime, Drama  |  30 October 1986 (West Germany)
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 34,194 users  
Reviews: 88 user | 66 critic

The story of three different men in a Louisiana prison and their eventual journey.



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4 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Billie Neal ...
Rockets Redglare ...
Vernel Bagneris ...
Timothea ...
L.C. Drane ...
Joy N. Houck Jr. ...
Detective Mandino (as Joy Houck Jr.)
Carrie Lindsoe ...
Young Girl
Ralph Joseph ...
Richard Boes ...
Dave Petitjean ...
Cajun Detective


DJ Zack and pimp Jack end up in prison for being too laid-back to avoid being framed for crimes they didn't commit. They end up sharing a cell with eccentric Italian optimist Roberto, whose limited command of the English language is both entertaining and infuriating -but rather more useful to them is the fact that Roberto knows an escape route Written by Michael Brooke <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


It's not where you start - It's where you start again.


Comedy | Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:







Release Date:

30 October 1986 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Bajo el peso de la ley  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,100,000 (estimated)


$1,436,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Nicoletta Braschi, who plays the Italian woman, is Roberto Benigni's wife in real life. See more »


Zack writes the number of the days that he's spent in cellar on the wall. Before he fights Jack for the first time, he angrily writes two big lines (two days). In the next scene with Roberto they are normal length. See more »


[first lines]
Jack: Julie, what're you doing out here?
Julie: Just watching the light change.
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References La Grande Illusion (1937) See more »


Written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson
Performed by Tom Waits
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User Reviews

Subtle grace masquerades as jail-break film
27 December 1998 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of Jarmusch's work is that the pace is slow. I would like to make a case for patience. After all, if true beauty and grace were delivered in one massive hit, our poor brains and hearts would not withstand the blow. In Down By Law, Jarmusch invites us to take some time, some real time and devote it to getting deeply involved with his characters. Men in crisis. Misfits, jailbirds, heartbreakingly human. We accompany them on their journey, their escape from their confines. It is a truly epic journey on a small geographical scale. We watch as they begin to mirror one another, as their individual egos become inextricably enmeshed in one another. We watch a friendship form. And how can we begrudge the time Jarmusch takes for this glorious exposition? How can we do anything but marvel at the fine detail in which the scenes are drawn, at the subtle movements of our heroes? Every gesture signifies worlds of meaning and consequence. And Jarmusch does it better, with more skill and with more compassion than anyone. If you are prepared to get involved, if you are brave enough to commit to the journey, you will be rewarded with a kind of epiphany that few films can offer.

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