7.8/10
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Down by Law (1986)

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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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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

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 »

Quotes

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

Connections

References La Grande Illusion (1937) See more »

Soundtracks

Jockey Full of Bourbon
Written and Performed by Tom Waits
from his 'Rain Dogs' album
Courtesy Island Records, Inc.
(opening title)
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Excellent early Jarmusch
17 April 2005 | by The_VoidSee all my reviews

While his later and more acclaimed works such 'Night on Earth' and 'Dead Man' may well be better films, this is the one that catapulted Jim Jarmusch to the forefront of obscure American cinema in the 1980's, and aside from that fact; it's a hell of a lot of fun, and fans of Jarmusch, and just fans of obscure cool cinema in general will find lots to like about it. Treading a line between a classic prison movie and an odd comedy, Down by Law works on several levels. The premise of the film is simple, as we follow three rather different convicts that end up in the same cell in a penitentiary. Despite this being a simple base for a movie, Jim Jarmusch really makes the best of his premise and the three characters he has created to inhabit the jail cell are all unique enough to each other in order to make sure that the film is always interesting, and that the characters have a good chemistry with one another, so that the dialogue flows freely and that it's quirky nature is able to be revved up to the top.

Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni take the lead three roles and although the former two actors are no doubt good in their roles, as usual it is Benigni that steals the show. His over the top style fits his over the top character like a glove and although Benigni isn't the sort of actor that can adapt to many different roles; when he's got one that fits him, he's pretty much unbeatable. The film's plot starts out slow, and the first half hour in which two of the three leads are introduced isn't all that exciting. It's when the three men get put inside that Down by Law really starts, and every minute from then on is a pleasure. Like he would with Dead Man nine years later, Jarmusch has opted to film Down by Law in a very stark black and white, which, also like Dead Man, increases the surrealism and also helps the film in it's bid to beat the thin plot line with a very potent visual complexity, which will delight fans of this sort of movie. On the whole, Down by Law is an excellent example of offbeat US film-making and I don't hesitate to recommend it to anyone.


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