Sunday 15 January 2012

Down by Law [1986]

Jim Jarmusch attained instant renown with the seminal Indie film Stranger than Paradise. Down by Law, his follow-up to the earlier film carried forward a number of thematic strands – the general sense of aimlessness among the protagonists, the rambling narrative, the idiosyncratic tone, an odyssey of sorts taken by the whimsical characters, among others. This unlikely buddy film has three principal characters who have incidentally ended up in the same jail-cell in New Orleans – while Jack (John Lurie), a pimp, and Zack (Tom Waits), a former disk-jockey, have been imprisoned for crimes they haven’t committed, Roberto (Roberto Benigni), a cheerful Italian tourist who, ironically, happens to be the only one among the three who isn’t wrongly accused. Though initially dismissed by Jack and Zack for his nerdish behaviour and oddly funny demeanour, Roberto, or “Bob” as he prefers to be called, turns out to be the most resourceful of the three; he doesn’t just help them escape from the prison, but also provides them with one hell of a lucky break post their directionless travails in the Louisiana bayous. The movie’s distinctive aesthetics was another reason that made it a companion piece to the groundbreaking Stranger in Paradise – the glorious black-and-white photography, the excellent yet low-key background score, the dry and deadpan humour, the fascinating character study of the three rudderless drifters and oddball anti-heroes, the languorous pacing, the strangely infectious character dynamics, so on and so forth. All the three lead actors really owned their characters in this brilliant Jarmusch film, with Roberto Benigni being most delightful to watch for his carefree and malapropism-laden role.

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Genre: Comedy/Existentialist Comedy/Buddy Film/Road Movie
Language: English
Country: US


Dan said...

Lovely piece Shubhajit. Not only do I love this film but I love that poster too. Great Benigni performance as always.

Sam Juliano said...

The rambling arc of the narrative was originally a turn-off for me after the first viewing of the film in a theatre upon release, but the splendid black and white cinematography and Benigni's irresitible performance did win me over in repeat viewings. I'd now consider this to me among Jarmusch's best films. This is the typical CINEMASCOPE capsule, employing word economy at its finest in framing this cult classic.

Shubhajit said...


Thanks a lot Dan. Yeah, that poster is quite endearing indeed :)

Shubhajit said...

@Sam Juliano:

I do understand the fact that the rambling narrative can turn out to be quite infectious for us, and off-putting for others. I'm glad to know that you gave the movie chances to win you over by going for repeat viewings, despite your first viewing of it not being too memorable.

Thanks a lot Sam for the kind words and appreciation.