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

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36 out of 72 people found the following review useful:

spoliers........ trust

8/10
Author: shaunfogarty from montara ca
4 March 2004

Jim Jarmusch trusts his camera, his directing, his writing, and most of all his performers. This is a gem of a film, without pretense. The story and film just move, sluggishly chugging forward to an ending that is really more of a dissolve. The story is ultimately of little importance, just enough movement to show us a bit of the big jokester in the skies irony. I was struck by the similarity's to Dead Man, similarities quite aside the black and white photography. The enigmatic character at the center, the drifting in and out of the main characters, the use of the boat, the disposal of the usual plot devices, the cutting away of obvious scenes (like the "how' of the escape) I wish more films displayed this sort of ease with themselves. Great stuff, 8/10.

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52 out of 104 people found the following review useful:

Fascinating filmmaking far away from Hollywood

8/10
Author: andibert from Freiburg/Germany
27 January 2004

Wow, what a movie. Far away from Hollywood, Jim Jarmusch creates a world where you don't need drama, pathos and action to fascinate the watcher. Because fascinating is exactly what this movie is. A plot in the classical sense is almost completely missing; the scenes, in their simplicity sometimes reminding of theater, follow each other without ever creating real suspense; neither griping action nor complex dialogues are there to excite the spectator. And still, with ease Jarmusch fills more than a hundred minutes with a story you won't take your eyes off. It is hard to tell what the atmosphere of the movie is really based on, the characters, the setting, entirely in black and white, the music - probably all of it. Again, like in Jarmusch's later movie "Dead man", speed is an important factor: everything moves slowly, without haste, as there is no dramatic climax you could hurry towards; yet, boring is a word that certainly doesn't fit this piece of cineastic art. On the other hand, though some of the scenes seem quite surrealistic, it is not a really artistic movie breaking with all the traditional concepts of filmmaking; it is more a movie in classic shape with an unconventional story, not trying to shock, to confuse or even to make you think so much; this movie doesn't need all this to get your complete attention. You could probably speculate a lot about the meaning of the movie; to me, this seems highly unnecessary. Just let it unfold its atmosphere. Judge yourselves, but I was excited in a very special way by every scene of this motion picture, giving me one of my best cineastic experiences of the recent time.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A Comedy Masterpiece

10/10
Author: georgep53 from Boston, MA
7 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I recently saw a 35mm print of "Down By Law" for the first time and really had no idea what to expect but as an admirer of independent film I was curious. Needless to say "Down By Law" almost single-handedly defines independent cinema with its seedy characters and willingness to push the boundaries of conventional filmmaking. Zack (Tom Waits) is a disc jockey who can't seem to keep a job and spends most of his time in an alcohol induced stupor. Ellen Barkin is memorable in a small role as Zack's long-suffering girlfriend. It's sad Barkin didn't get more opportunities in her film career. Jack (John Lurie) is a pimp who's fond of saying that he knows how to treat his girls and in one scene Jarmusch gives us a prolonged shot of Jack as seen from the perspective of a naked, outstretched prostitute. Obviously neither of these two ne'er do wells is destined to amount to much of anything so as fate would have it they end up sharing a prison cell where they argue incessantly. When an Italian tourist (Roberto Benigni) joins the two they learn that he too is a victim of bizarre circumstances. Benigni does a great job and practically owns the film from that point on. It's a great comedy performance. After this it's easy to see Benigni scaling the seats at the 1998 Oscars after winning for "Life Is Beautiful". Eventually there's an escape and the 3 convicts must dodge police trackers through the Louisiana bayou. Robby Muller's black and white camera-work adroitly creates a dark, surreal atmosphere. The Tom Waits songs are great and he and John Lurie play off each other beautifully. This is a great little work of cinema art by Jim Jarmusch. A must-see.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

truly one of the pioneering indies

10/10
Author: metokyoli from United States
19 June 2007

This is my first review because it is my favorite film. My husband and I moved here from japan and saw this movie together on our first week in the states . I have over 500 DVDf films in my collection and am avid watcher of world and US cinema. I keep the Criterion collection of everything if I can. I am a real movie nut. Anyway- this needs to be my first review because it is my favorite film- simple, funny, beautifully shot and brilliantly crafted. The film captures the essence of the other side of New Orleans and the other side of America. it is a funny and kind without being overly sentimental. It is linear, but also other-worldly. It is fantastical, but truly honest. The performances are, like the film, simple but beautiful. Tom Waits is so engaging and lovably cranky. Lurie is level and cool while Begninni delivers a kindness that moves. The black and white world is wholly unique. This is my favorite film!

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7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Cult-Indie for the Fans, Boring Film for the Others

6/10
Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
29 January 2010

In Louisianan, the girlfriend Laurette (Ellen Barkin) of the WYLD DJ Zack (Tom Waits) a.k.a. Lee Baby Simms has an argument and breaks with him. The upset Zack drinks booze on the street and his acquaintance Preston (Vernel Bagneris) offers US$ 1,500.00 to him to drive a Jaguar to the other side of the city. However, there is a man locked up in the trunk of the car and Zack is arrested and sent to the Orleans Parish Prison. Meanwhile the pimp Jack (John Lurie) is framed by his acquaintance Gig (Rockets Redglare) and is arrested in the same cell of Zack. When the Italian Roberto (Roberto Benigni) a.k.a. Bob that does note speak English very well is locked up in the same cell, the trio develops a strange friendship. Sooner Bob proposes a means of escape from prison and the trio shares a journey through the swamps of Mississippi.

"Down by Law" is a cult-indie for the fans and a boring film for the others. The cinematography in black and white is stylish, but why? The plot is quite original but uninteresting. Further I do not like the actor Roberto Benigni that used the idea of the screenplay of "Train de Vie" of Radu Mihaileanu that was offered to him to the lead role to write his awarded "La Vita è Bella". Therefore, I do not laugh of his gags and jokes. Maybe if I had seen this movie in 1986, I might have enjoyed more. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "Down by Law"

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7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Save your time.

2/10
Author: w3xh4k102
3 March 2006

I guess something is wrong with me. I pretty much like Jarmush's movies, bit this one...I simply don't get. Having seen all the stellar ratings and having read all the reviews, I expected a good, ENVOLVING movie. Oh boy, was I wrong.

It is slow, so slow you can go and have some breakfast only to find out that it is still the same scene when you return. It's supposed to be deeply into character psychology -- but it's not. It's supposed to make you think deep thoughts, but it doesn't.

Indeed, you can sit in your bedroom, stare at the old white cracked ceiling and reminiscence, but that doesn't mean that the ceiling has any artistic value. The same goes for this movie. You can "read into" it as much as you want, but it's you, not Jarmush. This movie is, in fact, totally void of any content. And yes, the emperor is, in fact, naked.

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30 out of 61 people found the following review useful:

A bit slow at times, but generally good

6/10
Author: FilmOtaku (ssampon@hotmail.com) from Milwaukee, WI
4 April 2005

One thing that I have always liked about Jim Jarmusch is that a lot of times he seems to use people whom you've either never heard of, or wouldn't expect to see acting in a film. His 1986 film "Down by Law" is no exception. The film tells the story of three men, Zack (Waits), Jack (Lurie) and Roberto (Benigni) who meet when they are put in the same jail cell at a New Orleans prison. All three men are different in terms of background; Zack is a serially employed radio DJ who is kicked out of the house by his girlfriend, only to run into a shady acquaintance that offers him $1,000 to drive a hot Jaguar to an undisclosed location in the city. Along the way he is stopped by the police and unfortunately, a body is found in the trunk of the Jag, which spells bad news for Zack and a quick trip to prison. Jack is a pimp who is set up by an associate of his; when he goes to meet a prospective "worker" in a hotel room, the police bust in, the lights go on and it turns out the woman is actually a young girl. Roberto's background is a little shadier, though murder factors into it. Roberto's command of the English language is comical and his naiveté and good mood are infectious, but the other two come to near blows either with each other or Roberto on more than one occasion, particularly after they manage to escape from prison, when they are forced to rely on one another to survive the swamps of Louisiana so they can escape prison, and one another, for good.

"Down by Law" is shot in wonderful black and white, which gives the film both a starkness and bare-bones feel. The music is also fantastic, with the instrumentals being performed by John Lurie and the songs by Tom Waits. Thirteen years before winning Best Actor for "Life is Beautiful", Beningi gives a great performance in this film; his charm and humor were incredibly apparent in this, his first American film. Tom Waits, a personal favorite of mine, most musically but also for his various movie roles, is a natural actor and did a great job in this film. John Lurie, whom I don't remember from other Jarmusch films I've seen, but apparently was in them gave a decent performance, though at times it was fairly wooden. I suspect that there was a good amount of improvisation throughout "Down by Law", but that didn't help some of its pacing problems. Though the photography of the film was wonderful, it couldn't help divert from the fact that there were times when the film really dragged for me, like Jarmusch had left the camera on and the principals were just kind of doing their thing, though not in a compelling manner.

Overall, however, I did enjoy "Down by Law" and it is a must-see for any Jarmusch fan. I would also recommend it for those who enjoyed Beningi's more recent performances, because he really seemed to have a lot of fun with this film, as did I, for the most part. 6/10 --Shelly

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42 out of 85 people found the following review useful:

Noire Fairy Tale: Surprised by Delight

9/10
Author: (jk-96) from California
18 March 2005

This movie was a total surprise to me. I'm sure it's very famous, but somehow had never seen it before. From the beginning scenes, I was expecting a gritty low life, wind up in the gutter, down and out kind of crime movie and that was fine with me, especially if set in New Orleans. At the same time there was a surprising freshness about it, that caught my attention, like a wake up call. Literally, there was writing on the wall that signaled "this is not that kind of movie!" The opening scenes reminded me of the opening of Sopranos -- the rolling shot of a neighborhood with an ominous sounding song in the background. (Were the Sopranos producers inspired by this film?) But once Roberto Benigni appeared on the scene, announcing that "Life is Sad and Beautiful" the whole story began to feel more like a strange fairy tale. Throughout the film, I appreciated the way the director took his time, letting the story evolve slowly, giving the characters time to develop their tenuous bonds. I could watch this again and again, knowing I would keep discovering hidden meanings, references, and ironies. Loved it!!!!

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

stupid nuggets

9/10
Author: heyfacker from United States
1 July 2012

come come hear people come close i want to tell u something i order u to give this stupid movie 9 out of ten or i will rip ur shits out of u i know u nigggers don't understand this movie because your black crazy people i don't understand why in every god damn country the nigggers are the same stupid shettie criminals ass lickers so anyway they will die soon

come come hear people come close i want to tell u something i order u to give this stupid movie 9 out of ten or i will rip ur shits out of u i know u nigggers don't understand this movie because your black crazy people i don't understand why in every god damn country the nigggers are the same stupid shettie criminals ass lickers so anyway they will die soon

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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Benigni Shines in Offbeat Prison Break Film

6/10
Author: st-shot from United States
25 December 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Three rather benign losers from different backgrounds ( a DJ, a pimp, and a tourist) come together in a Louisiana jail and form an awkward alliance to find their way to freedom in this offbeat comedy drama by Jim Jarmusch. Done in typical flat affect Jarmusch style the film opens with the pimp (Jack) and the Dj (Zack) being clearly set up by colluding cops and criminals. The oppressive atmosphere in the cell they share is punctuated by insult and fights. When Roberto joins them he defuses the tension somewhat with his poor ability to communicate in English. Eventually the three manage to escape into the swamp. Stealing a canoe they row in circles before it sinks on them. Lost and isolated they stumble upon a diner in the middle of nowhere. Roberto becomes involved with the owner who also speaks Italian and the other two split up taking separate paths at a desolate fork in the road, free from prison and free from each other, their futures uncertain.

In Law, Jarmusch creates a noirish world inhabited by surly, unctuous losers, cops and criminals. Everyone with the exception Roberto seems beyond redemption. He also effectively captures the madness that the tedium of being behind bars engenders.

Robby Muller's B&W cinematography is an endless array of strong verticals that creates a claustrophobic atmosphere whether in prison or the wide open spaces of the wilderness. It's muted low contrast contributes mightily to the bleak situation and setting. It is a film that moves slow and in circles however and Jarmusch has to ultimately employ a deus ex machina to avoid the inevitable.

Tom Waits and John Lurie are typical Jarmusch protagonists, marginal deadbeats with indifferent outlooks and their street pride wears thin early before the charismatic Roberto played by Roberto Benigni breathes much needed life into the film's pace. He steals the rest of the film but along with the contrived fairy tale ending, Down by Law seems to go nowhere.

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