“Why do ya always gotta go fuck up your own future, huh?”
Three oddball prisoners (Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni) escape through the Louisiana bayou.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Black Comedy
- Deep South
Jim Jarmusch’s character-driven prison-break film — a follow-up to his groundbreaking debut, Stranger Than Paradise (1984) — has many fans, but I’m not one of them. None of the three lead characters is especially appealing, and since we never get a chance to know any of them particularly well, we don’t really care what happens to them. Most annoying of all is Benigni’s chirpy immigrant “Roberto”; while many find his riffs in this film (i.e., the “I scream for ice cream” chant) hilarious, I found them insufferable.
Down By Law clearly bows towards surrealistic impulses, with several moments in the film conveniently defying reality: the three prisoners easily escape from their cell (we’re never shown how); they conveniently happen upon an Italian restaurant — with a friendly, beautiful, single owner — in the middle of nowhere; etc.
These leaps of logic are mildly amusing, and Robby Muller’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography is a wonder to behold; but ultimately, these elements weren’t enough to keep my interest.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Beautiful black-and-white cinematography of the Louisiana bayou
- The opening tracking shot, accompanied by Tom Waits singing an infectious blues ballad
No, though it’s of interest for its cult status, and as one of this maverick indie filmmaker’s best-known early films.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)