Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)
Jack (John Lurie), Zack (Tom Waits), and Bob (Roberto Benigni) three complete strangers, are put together in the same prison cell for crimes they did not commit. One day, Bob tells them how they could escape.
Jim Jarmusch’s film centers on the relationship of this trio of losers that are together and become friends with the promiscuity of their cell but also their situation when they escape. The story slowly brings the guys together and they keep their unsympathetic personas all along the way. Except for the good hearted Bob who constantly talks and use his limited English to keep them together and create the actual bonding. The fight and discord between Zack and Jack was like the clash of two best friends involved in a particular situation.
The story is not centered on the actual escape and we don’t even know how they get out of jail. We know that they are like little boys playing in the woods and having to do what they have to do. I like to watch this film and think that the three main characters are young pre-teen boys who like to play rough together and live a play they thought they were imagining. The external world of their friendship is limited and the other characters are boldly written. The policemen looks stereotypical and their back story sounds as if it was created for a pulp novel. Like they said, they are innocent men and it looks like a cartoon in some ways. It is like a childish play that captures playfulness and innocence. Nonetheless, it is very well executed and this observation is made in the most positive manner possible.
Compared to Stranger Than Paradise, that is also starring Lurie, Down by Law has more traditional narratives and is easier to appreciate. It also demonstrates a greater mastery in Jarmusch’s storytelling and writing. It is a great middle between his Stranger than Paradise and his Dead Man. Once again he made great use of the music composed by John Lurie and the songs of Tom Waits. It is however, really low key and just enough is done to bring Jarmusch’s characters to something.
Down by Law was a very good watch for me and even if Jarmusch didn’t made a lot of films, each and every one of them is unique and signed with his personal touch. The use of black and white in a film of the 1980’s might seem a little pretentious, but for his stories it gives an undated finish to the picture. Also, it makes this superb cinematography unforgettable.