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Two innocent people are arrested. An interesting third person, with broken English, joins them in their cell. On his idea, they decide to escape from the prison. Their journey is the rest of the movie.

Director:

Jim Jarmusch

Writer:

Jim Jarmusch
4 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »

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Director: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Tom Waits ... Zack
John Lurie ... Jack
Roberto Benigni ... Roberto
Nicoletta Braschi ... Nicoletta
Ellen Barkin ... Laurette
Billie Neal Billie Neal ... Bobbie
Rockets Redglare Rockets Redglare ... Gig
Vernel Bagneris ... Preston
Timothea Timothea ... Julie
L.C. Drane L.C. Drane ... L.C.
Joy N. Houck Jr. Joy N. Houck Jr. ... Detective Mandino (as Joy Houck Jr.)
Carrie Lindsoe Carrie Lindsoe ... Young Girl
Ralph Joseph Ralph Joseph ... Detective
Richard Boes Richard Boes ... Detective
Dave Petitjean Dave Petitjean ... Cajun Detective
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Storyline

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. More useful to them is the fact that Roberto knows an escape route. Written by Michael Brooke <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Comedy | Crime | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | West Germany

Language:

English | Italian

Release Date:

30 October 1986 (West Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

Bajo el peso de la ley See more »

Filming Locations:

Louisiana, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,100,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$49,840, 28 September 1986, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$1,436,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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

Goofs

When Roberto is drawing a window on the wall, an indistinct impression of the same drawing of a window can already be seen, presumably drawn during an earlier take and later erased. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Jack: Julie, what're you doing out here?
Julie: Just watching the light change.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) See more »

Soundtracks

Tango Till They're Sore
Written and Performed by Tom Waits
from his 'Rain Dogs' album
Courtesy Island Records, Inc.
(end title)
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Early Jarmusch: awkward but heartwarming camaraderie in the America of vacant, overgrown lots and other such blight
12 September 2015 | by crculverSee all my reviews

Jim Jarmusch's DOWN BY LAW is one of the art-house productions that the American independent director made his name with in the 1980s.

At this point in his career, Jarmusch wanted to depict not the glitzy, glamorous America of Hollywood films, but rather the side no one ever talks about: vacant lots overgrown with weeds, the ramshackle homes of the working poor, and empty suburban streets. As the film opens, Jarmusch sets the stage by depicting New Orleans from this angle in a series of shots made from a moving car. Only then we see how a small-town pimp (John Lurie) and an itinerant DJ (Tom Waits) get themselves arrested after they've each accepted a job from a seedy friend. They subsequently end up sharing a jail cell, into which one day an Italian immigrant (Roberto Benigni) is also placed. The plot of the film is the developing camaraderie between these three men. The Italian's bumbling antics act initially aggravate his cellmates -- Benigni's role serve as comic relief against the morose behavior of the other two characters. DOWN BY LAW begins as a drama portraying the underbelly of a Louisiana town, but by the end it has transformed into absurdist comedy.

Lurie's acting is fine, representing his character convincingly as a pathetic d-bag. Benigni might seem like he's playing himself, but his English is reputedly much better than the broken phrases he offers in the film. Nicoletta Braschi appears as the Italian's love interest, a role that must have been easy to play since Benigni and her are married in real life. I've never thought Tom Waits was a great actor, however.

In terms of cinematography, this is a major step forward for Jarmusch. Bringing on cameraman Robby Müller, most famous for his work with Wim Wenders in the 1970s, Jarmusch shot many scenes with blatant diagonals and claustrophobic framing that suggests the prison in which these characters do time. It's certainly the most geometrically striking film of Jarmusch's career.

This is an entertaining film, with many fine touches. If I give it less than a rave, it's just because I can't completely get into these black and white portrayals of contemporary lowlifes (I have a problem with early Kaurismäki for the same reason--his aesthetic was very similar to Jarmusch's.) But I think this film has held up pretty well three decades after its release, and I'd recommend it for anyone looking to explore Jarmusch's work.


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