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Down by Law
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Reviews & Ratings for
Down by Law More at IMDbPro »

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7 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

self-consciously cool

5/10
Author: Michael Neumann from United States
14 November 2010

Jim Jarmusch's 'neo-beat-noir' follow-up to his quirky debut feature 'Strangers In Paradise' was the in-film for the in-crowd when first released: a hip-to-distraction ersatz comedy in which the only joke is that there is no joke. With his deadpan disdain for the Hollywood mainstream Jarmusch might be accused of being a cinematic rebel simply for the sake of rebellion, offering as his only alternative a numb new form of motion picture in which most of the motion as been deliberately discarded. The result is either an exhilarating departure from convention or a supreme test of patience, filmed in handsome high-contrast black and white and bolstered by a trio of likable if not exactly memorable characters: Jack, Zack and Bob the Italian, three misfits who meet in jail and subsequently escape into the Louisiana bayous. That's about it. Recommended for aficionados of tongue-in-cheek obscurantism.

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atmospheric without much tension

6/10
Author: SnoopyStyle
7 July 2015

In New Orleans, Radio DJ Zack (Tom Waits) is berated by his girlfriend Laurette (Ellen Barkin) for losing his job. He gets $1000 to drive a car across town but the cops stop him and find a dead body in the trunk. Jack (John Lurie) is a pimp who is offered a new young white girl. Before he notices that she's underage, cops bust in and arrest him. They end up in the same cell and Roberto (Roberto Benigni) who speaks little English is brought in. He writes down phrases that strike him. He tells them that he's a card cheat who killed a man with the pool 8-ball. Then he leads them on a breakout.

The camera lingers in slow moving long continuous scenes. The sparse settings give a surreal feel to it all. Everything has a dreamlike quality. It has an interesting atmosphere but it doesn't have much tension which is Jim Jarmusch's style.

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A Pure Joy

8/10
Author: gavin6942 from United States
16 January 2014

The story of three different men (Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni) in a Louisiana prison and their eventual journey.

This film is a natural progression from "Stranger Than Paradise". Lurie returns as a lead, and the music of Screamin' Jay Hawkins is replaced with Tom Waits. If Hawkins and Waits know each other, I have no idea, but their music styles are not far removed.

Although Waits is among my favorite actors (he excels at playing villains), the standout performance here is Benigni. How much English he knew at the time I am not sure, but he brings a comic mischief to the film, and is the most light-hearted despite being potentially the most dangerous.

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Worth the time

7/10
Author: Giorgos Trou from Athens, Greece
13 October 2013

Being the first Jarmusch film I was about to watch, I really didn't know what to expect from 'Down by Law'.

As a Roberto Benigni fan, I expected it to be quite amusing. And it was. It had a subtle humour, which worked for me, even though it was in low amount. However, I found out that Tom Waits and John Lurie performed great too. I actually believe that the good chemistry among the actors is what makes this movie enjoyable. Also the cinematography and Jarmusch's direction were very interesting.

Perhaps the only drawback of 'Down by Law' is its lack of a true plot. Their escape should be just a little bit more detailed (Jarmusch didn't intend to give us many technical details about it, but I think he should). Of course if he focused only on that, he would ruin it.

All in all, this movie contains good acting and some strange climate, which makes it a nice one to watch. However, some may find it boring. I wasn't enthused, but I definitely recommend it to a real cinephile.

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The three stooges

8/10
Author: Degree7 from Denver, Colorado
28 September 2013

Down By Law might just be the definitive independent, low budget art-house flick that defined the movement throughout the 80s and 90s. Folks like Soderbergh, Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Richard Linklater owe a lot to Jarmusch's farce. The black and white photography is stoic, the acting is self assured, and the story is very bare bones, but never does the film wink or nudge at you to make the viewer notice how cool it is.

The film just emanates cool, precisely because it doesn't think so highly of itself. It just wants to tell its story, and leave.

Tom Waits helps a lot, but John Lurie is also solid as a pimp/hustler, both serving time in a Louisiana prison after being framed by their contemporaries. Robert Begnini comes in later, to act as a foil between the group, and eventually serves as the inspiration for their escape.

While together, the three are resourceful and manage to escape the prison, it is when they separate that they are at their most vulnerable, so the film makes use of a certain sort of vague truth. But I don't think Jarmusch was as concerned with inserting any particularly deep philosophy into this film. He was just telling a simple tale, but what it lacks in intellectual furor, it makes up for in atmosphere and style. And this is one stylish piece of work.

It has the structure more of a five act play, so the dialogue and characters are entertaining enough to maintain your interest even when no real action is going on. There are no heart pounding chases through the swamp, no complex escape plan, and no real tragedy. But the low budget stylistics make the film resemble more of a post-modern Marx Brothers escapade than 'The Shawshank Redemption'.

The soundtrack says it all, really. Slow beat, jazzy, and cool baby, real cool.

If all else, see this movie for one of, if not the, first U.S. performance by Robert Begnini. Before he replaced Peter Sellers in "The Son of Pink Panther", he was a great character actor. For this, Jarmusch should also be commended.

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The road not taken, by "Bob" Frost

7/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
14 September 2013

Ever since "Stranger than Paradise," I have loved and sought out quirky filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. He has an unusual sense of humor and an unusual way of presenting his films. Sometimes they're episodic, like Coffee & Cigarettes, Mystery Train, and Night on Earth, and sometimes they tell the story of bizarre people brought together by bizarre circumstances.

"Down by Law" is about three men who meet in a New Orleans prison, Zack, Jack, and Roberto (Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni). Zack is a DJ who took $1000 to drive a car, but there was a body in the trunk. Jack is a pimp sent out to check out a new prospect who turns out to be underage, and the police are waiting. We only hear Roberto's story from his lips - he apparently threw a billiard ball at someone and the person died. The three men manage to escape into a swamp and woods.

Roberto quotes (in Italian) the man he refers to as "Bob Frost" and there is the symbol in the film of "The Road Not Taken" when a fork in the road is reached. One thing that cracked me up was the same thing that cracked me up in "Stranger than Paradise" - in that film, everywhere the characters went looked exactly the same as the crummy neighborhood and weather they left in Chicago. It didn't matter if it was in Florida or at the aunt's house - it was always overcast and awful. Here, the three men escape and wind up in a building to spend the night that looks just like their prison cell.

Benigni, as the cheerful, chatty one is hilarious, and what happens to him is even funnier - and could only have happened to that character. Waits and Lurie give solid performances in less showy roles - another element of Jarmusch is his unusual casting.

"Down by Law" is done in stark black and white; rarely does Jarmusch work in color. It gives this film a downbeat atmosphere, along with the garbage in the neighborhood streets, the swamp, and the woods.

There are slow sections but if you want to see this unique director's work, I recommend it. No one tells a story, or chooses what story to tell, quite like he does.

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Male bonding, bumbling and natural behavior among three men on the fringe

8/10
Author: msroz from United States
2 July 2012

During the setup, I wasn't sure what this was about. We see Tom Waits and John Lurie each get set up, framed, and sent to jail. Each has a girl friend who is inessential to the story and disappears after these introductions, but they comment on these men and their lives.

The men and their women are living in rundown areas and on the fringe. The movie does a great job photographically of immersing us in these poor areas and giving them a beauty all their own. And it is also as if to say that all the people we are seeing are human beings too and part of the world's stage, as well as all fools too as mortals be.

Waits is a disc jockey who loses one job after another because he's independent. Lurie is a pimp.

In jail they are joined by an Italian still learning the language, played very comically by Roberto Benigni. In fact, it is at that point that the comic element comes to the fore, as we see how these three men living in one cell interact with one another. And that becomes largely what this part of the movie is about. It's fairly unpredictable and amusing. Some of it may have been improvised. Although there are frictions, the men bond with one another, but not too much. Their circumstances influence how they behave toward one another.

Although Benigni is slighter of build than his cell mates, can't speak English well, and seems a clown, his character continually brings us some surprises as the story develops. This adds to the fun.

The three men escape jail, and the rest of the story follows them through the chase, the swamps of Lousiana and what refuges they can find. The comic element fades away to a large extent and the movie's tone becomes simply wry and ironic. An interesting moral situation occurs when, during the pursuit, Benigni cannot swim and the others must decide whether or not to save their own skins or risk losing them by helping Benigni.

They are in an existential plight. The whole movie has this existential tone to it. The men do not philosophize. They don't ruminate much about the situations they find themselves in. They don't cooperate all that much. They don't for the most part exhibit much skill in the wilderness, yet they manage to make their way. Their leadership seems always to shift. It's an anarchic set of relations.

They create their own humor and laughter, their own kind of poetry, even their own jail window. We see that men need art, poetry, laughter, friendship. They also need women, and this too is shown. They need on occasion to fight. These men living on the fringe that most of us will never meet show us some basic things about human life. This is a large virtue of this movie. The men behave naturally. With all of society's conventions, we need to be reminded that men have natures and behave naturally.

This is a very good movie.

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Quiet brilliance!

Author: Terrell Howell (KnightsofNi11) from United States
25 September 2011

Jim Jarmush once again flaunts his intelligence, eye for detail, and love of poetry in his quietly brilliant film, Down by Law. It's a film about three men with very different stories who all find themselves in the same cell in a New Orleans prison. Tom Waits plays Zack, a lowly radio DJ with no future. John Lurie is Jack, a wannabe pimp who doesn't really have a clue what he is doing but pretends like he does. And then there is Roberto Benigni as Roberto, an Italian tourist who is desperate to learn about American culture and language, but has come to the wrong part of town to find it. Together, these three oddball characters escape from prison and go on a weird and offbeat, existential journey through the New Orleans swamp land.

On the surface Down by Law seems like little to nothing. But it is the quiet subtleties that make this a rather ingenious film. On the surface it is a story of three strange men who escape from prison together. But Jarmush mixes in his witty dialect, astute characterization, and clever allusions to poetry that carry throughout the film to make it more than just a prison escape film. He disguises a sophisticated ingenuity about the film underneath simple quirkiness. He plays up a lively and rather simplistic nuance, only to sprinkle the film with a more intelligent air. The film really does feel like a smart film, whether you can place where the intelligence comes from or not.

However, that's not to say that this film isn't fun, as well as funny. Zack, Jack, and Roberto are three great characters and they work so well together. They all have their odd quirks and strange mannerisms that make them all very unique people. There is some great banter between the three and plenty of moments that aren't necessarily laugh out loud hysterical, but pleasantly funny, eliciting a chuckle of approval. And then of course the unique way Jarmush shoots the film also makes it a very interesting watch for those with a keen eye for unique directorial ability. Down by Law is an effective exercise in intelligent shot framing as Jarmush shoots the entire film with very long still shots, or very long shots that make only subtle movements, making the direction of this film silently brilliant. Add to that the skillful black and white cinematography and it is safe to call this film a subtly excellent visual experience.

Jim Jarmush almost always impresses us with his great usage of minimalist filmmaking techniques. He creates such unique stories that all have such quiet excellence that they become remarkably unforgettable films, even if you don't pick up on their brilliance the first one or two viewings. Down by Law may be one of his quietest exaltations of skillful minimalist filmmaking, but it is still an excellent film. Jarmush tells his story exactly how he wants to tell it, and he gives us, the audience, a unique experience to remember.

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What A Great Movie!

10/10
Author: dukesdungeon from Australia
7 August 2006

The only persons I was familiar with in this movie when I started watching it were Ellen Barkin and Tom Waits (Waits as a singer with a very distinct singing style). I knew from previews that the storyline was about three prison escapees but I never realized that by the end of the film, I would be so totally satisfied in a yarn that had taken me on a fascinating journey through New Orleans. The viewer gets to see the down side of New Orleans and some of the 'countryside' during the movie, but the ending is a work of art. I loved the fact that there was no violence or the usual 'blood-letting', but most importantly, having been filmed in black and white, the film obviously relied on the characters and the story to keep the audiences in their seats. As in any sort of photography, black and white will triumph over color if the subject is exceptional. This is certainly the case here.

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Excellent.

10/10
Author: fezhead from Canada
31 December 2004

This film should be praised, as one of the best films to date. To many it is very boring, but for those people who have the patience to sit through it, its very worthwhile seeing it. The b&w film (which is Jarmush's signature touch) adds a great effect throughout the whole movie. The long, drawn-out scenes help the audience connect with the 3 characters, and the characters subtle friendships expand. The long scenes, also show the dreadful boringness of isolation (particularly in the OPP.) The acting is very well done as well. His style makes the movie a great one. It is comedic, dramatic, and adventurous all in one film. I strongly suggest you see it, or any of Jarmush's work for that matter. Coffee&Cigarettes, is also very good, of what i saw. SEE THIS MOVIE! (if you can find it)

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