American film director Jim Jarmusch’s third feature Down by Law, a film about loners and misfits in America, is arriving in the Criterion Collection this January.
It must be fate as three hapless men all end up in a prison in New Orleans. These men include unemployed disc jockey Zack (Tom Waits), a pimp named Jack (John Lurie) and Italian tourist Roberto (played by Life is Beautiful’s Roberto Benigni) and the three of them set off on an adventure.
Jarmusch is one of those directors that’s not for everyone and can often be a bit divisive and Down by Law unfortunately is no exception to this. If you’re a fan of his films then there’s probably a lot to enjoy with Down by Law, especially with all the bonus features on this Criterion release. However, if you’re not a fan, it’s a slow and plodding film with very little going on. Jarmusch creates a visually stunning film that’s shot in crisp black and white with some remarkable cinematography contributing to the atmosphere of the film, however there’s little else in this.
Every scene seems to end with the camera lingering on shots for far longer than it needs to and the sets are all sparse and not really giving us much to look at. If you’re not on board with Jarmusch and his style of film then it’s a bit of a bore to sit through. There’s some humour when Benigni’s Italian tourist is first introduced and he’s the absolute highlight of the film. However, most of the comedy seems to deride from his misunderstanding of the English language, and this gets very tiresome very quickly.
After a brief period of time, it gets boring to continuously laugh at the foreign man, solely because he’s foreign and doesn’t understand the language very well. If this was an American character the film would be stripped of any comedy whatsoever. Scenes become so long and unnecessary that we spend about a minute and a half with the three characters dancing around their prison cell singing “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream” for no real reason. And it’s not funny by this point, it’s just weird and uncomfortable.
To make things even more boring than they already were, the three thankfully escape from prison but Jarmusch refuses to go into any detail as to how this escape occurred. One minute they’re all in their cells and the next they’re in the sewers running away from the prison and we’re then expected to watch these characters wander around the woods for the second half of the film despite having no idea how they left the prison and how they’re now stood in the woods together. Like I said before, Jim Jarmusch films are very much an acquired taste and hopefully Down by Law strikes a chord with fans of his, but if you’re not already a fan of Jarmusch then this film really isn’t going to do anything for you.
Bonus features include:
- High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- Thoughts and reflections on the making of the film from director Jim Jarmusch in 2002
- Interview with director of photography Robby Müller from 2002
- Footage from the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, including a press conference featuring Jarmusch and actors John Lurie, Roberto Benigni, and Nicoletta Braschi, and an interview with Lurie, with commentary
- Sixteen outtakes
- Music video for Tom Waits’s cover of Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me,” directed by Jarmusch
- Q&A with Jarmusch in which he responds to fans’ questions
- Recordings of phone conversations between Jarmusch and Waits, Benigni, and Lurie
- Production Polaroids and location stills
- Isolated music track
- Optional French dub track, featuring Benigni
- PLUS: An essay by critic Luc Sante
Down by Law-The Criterion Collection releases on January 3rd 2022.