Jim Jarmusch has described his 1986 film “Down By Law” as a “neo-beat-noir-comedy”. That may be true, but let me begin by simply saying how goddamn cool this movie is. If you’ve seen it you know. If you haven’t seen it, see it already.
There is not all that much one can say about the film short of imploring others to see it. As with the Jarmusch’s best work, it is kept simple and taken very slowly and is just sort of allowed to happen. The magic lies in the lulls. Tom Waits as an unemployed disc jockey; John Lurie as a low-rent pimp; a then unknown Roberto Benigni as a hapless Italian tourist. They find themselves in a Louisiana prison, and that is about it. The rest is pretty much left to what Jarmusch does best as the three men talk a lot, get on one another’s nerves, and even share in a chorus (in one of my all-time favorite movie scenes) of “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Then there is the look of the film. The phenomenal black & white cinematography by Robby Müller is amazing to watch and Criterion has done a great job with the DVD transfer as usual.
The two-disc set comes with a ton of extras. Sure there are your standard issue stills and trailers present, but there are also a few gems here. There is a Jarmusch directed Tom Waits video for a cover of Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me” and a rather odd series or rather funny recorded phone conversations between Jarmusch and each of the three lead actors. There is also a conversation with cinematographer Robby Müller about the film’s look.
All said, “Down By Law” is a seminal film of the American independent movement and a must have for fans of Jarmusch.