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DOWN BY LAW, 1986
Movie Review

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DOWN BY LAW,   MOVIE POSTERDOWN BY LAW, 1986
Movie Reviews

Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring:Tom Waits, Ellen Barkin, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Billie Neal
Review by Omer Kula


SYNOPSIS:

The story of three different men in a Louisiana prison and their eventual journey.

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REVIEW:

Jarmusch’s third feature , ‘Down by Law’, is just another brilliant and beautiful black comedy like his previous film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’. In the film we have three main characters. First one is Tom Waits, as Zack. Second one is John Lurie from ‘Stranger Than Paradise’, as Jack. And the third one is Roberto Benigni in his first international role, as Roberto.

In the beginning with Tom Waits singing, Jim Jarmusch shows us the neighborhood that the story will take place. Actually neighborhood doesn’t have an important role in the story because half of the film takes place in jail and near Texas border. After this long first sequence, Jarmusch introduces his characters to the audiences one by one.

Zack, played by Tom Waits, is a real trouble-maker, actually we never see this side of him. In the beginning Zack argues with his girlfriend without saying anything. Then he starts to drink in the street by himself. But later he is accused of murder when a body is found in the trunk of a stolen car he was hired to drive across town. Then we meet Jack (John Lurie). Jack is a pimp set up for a fall by a competitor. These two charismatic losers meet in the same cell, finally. At first they never talk. Jarmusch never shows how many days or hours past in the film, but it’s easy to understand that for a long time these two guys ignore each other. After a short time they start to communicate they have a serious fight and the silence in the cell continues. Roberto, an Italian tourist who knows minimal English, just

comes in the cell when this tension between these two men grows. Roberto is a cheerful Italian man. He is in jail because he killed a man accidentally. He always wants to communicate with his cellmates with his deficient English and after some work he succeeds it. Then these three men almost become friends and with Roberto’s plan they succeed to escape. Jack and Zack’s relationship is on and off but they again come together because of Roberto’s ability to find food. At last they find a house end Roberto decides to stay with the lady who lives in this house. Actually his plan is to marry her. Zack and Jack leaves the house and walks just the opposite ways when they come in a junction without knowing where these roads are going.

After Cannes glory of ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ Jarmusch makes another great comedy with his unique style. All of the three actors in the film are in great form especially Roberto Benigni. When he shows up in a Jarmusch movie(such as Night on Earth and his parts in Coffee & Cigarettes series) you always start to feel that something funny is going to happen. His performance is definitely improvisation here and with this performance in 1986 he became a well-known actor in United States after his home Italy. His collaborators in the movie are musician Tom Waits and John Lurie from Stranger Than Paradise who is a famous saxophone player. It is amazing to watch such variety of characters in a same film. Even though for the audience there’s not much difference between Zack and Jack, it’s like they both compete in the film to determine which one is coolest. Sometimes Tom Waits exaggerates a lot but John Lurie is always at his best so my vote is his.

When we consider this film as a Jarmusch film everything becomes clearer. Every scene has its own meanings and all you can say about the shots in the forest is beautiful. And it’s not surprising to see a man in a different country who speaks little English. But his style of film making(no storyboard, no shot lists, mostly improvisations) makes his every film different and you can watch his films several times like you didn’t watch before.

There’s no need to analyze this film scene by scene but there are two memorable scenes I want to admit. First one is Roberto’s speech while he is frying the rabbit. He is alone and starts to talk about his family. In this scene Roberto Benigni uses the real names from his family so the story he tells might be a true story. The second scene I chose is the last scene, where they all together eat and talk. And the junction of course… Possibly the best ending for a naÔve film like this.

This film is not Jarmusch’s best, that’s for sure, but after Stranger Paradise and this film he became the director of ordinary lives of unique characters. in his films it’s not important for the characters to know each other or even to speak the same language for communication. On the other hand, even dialogs among English speakers can’t achieve a real communication. This is one of the most common themes in his films. These characteristics are not one of those you can see every day. 2-3 times in a lifetime, if you are lucky…

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