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USA 1986
Directed by
Jim Jarmusch
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Down By Law

Jim Jarmusch parlayed the success of his previous film Stranger Than Paradise (1984) into this more ambitious effort with John Lurie, who had starred in the earlier film, along with Tom Waits and Roberto Begnini as three ill-assorted losers who meet in a New Orleans prison and escape together through the Louisiana bayou, eventually finding refuge in an isolated wayside stopover owned by a comely Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi, who is Begnini's wife).

The casting of music icon Tom Waits and the unique Roberto Begnini (who would win a Best Foreign Film Oscar for Life is Beautiful in 1997 in which Braschi also starred) makes for a genial eccentricity that spins smoothly around Lurie's ultra-cool score and keeps the director’s characteristic dead-pan ironic style and elliptical approach to narrative from wearing thin (there is a small role for Ellen Barkin who drops out of the film relatively early in the piece). The film also benefits greatly from Robby Müller's pellucid black and white cinematography which makes it a constant visual delight. Add in a song ('Jockey Full of Bourbon') by Waits over the opening credits and you've got a likeably offbeat buddy movie for a hipster audience.

FYI: Müller who would become Jarmusch's regular collaborator replaced Tom DiCillo who shot Jarmusch's first two films as well as a couple of segments of his Coffee And Cigarettes and who would go on to direct the very Jarmusch-like Johnny Suede




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