Sunday January 30, 2011 14:12

Movie #0041 – Down by Law (1986)

Posted by Michael

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni
First Viewing

Synopsis: Three men form a tenuous bond after meeting in jail as cellmates.

I’ve watched (and re-watched) a lot of great movies for this blog. This was not one of them. I won’t say that I hated this movie, but I will say that I derived very little enjoyment from it. I was pretty bored, in fact.

This was only the second film that I’ve seen from director Jim Jarmusch; the first was the above average Broken Flowers, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Based on my enjoyment of that movie, and the fact that Down by Law is probably Jarmusch’s most highly-regarded film, my expectations were fairly high. Perhaps too high? But even with no expectations I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed this movie.

I have a few issues with Down by Law. My main issue is that the two main characters, played by Tom Waits (in a fairly mediocre performance) and John Lurie (in a performance that isn’t exactly great, but which looks pretty good next to Waits) are not very compelling. Neither is particularly likable or interesting, so spending 107 minutes with them becomes a bit of a chore. This is exacerbated by the total absence of a plot, which makes the shoddiness of the characters all the more apparent. Then there’s the boisterous Roberto Benigni, who seems to be playing a variation on himself (complete with the name Roberto). He’s a much more interesting figure than the other two, though he does kind of seem out of place, like he randomly wandered onto the set and was inserted into the movie on a whim.

The movie also really takes its time, with long stretches in which not all that much happens. I checked the book, which says that the film “epitomizes [Jarmusch's] counter-hegemonic interest and style and unwinds inside a hermetically sealed creative universe divorced from the demands of box-office receipts or the requirements of immediate audience gratification.” Which is basically film critic speak for “it’s boring.” I think this type of leisurely storytelling can work, but it doesn’t here.

I did like Robby Müller’s black and white cinematography. Aside from that? The film wasn’t terrible, I suppose. I’ve certainly seen worse. But considering its stature as an American independent classic, I was disappointed.

Buy the movie on Amazon

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