Down by Law ★★★½


Not sure I even knew who Tom Waits was when I saw this on video or cable shortly after its initial release, whereas this time "Jockey Full of Bourbon" came on over the opening credits and I was all FUCK YEAH! Amazingly lengthy setup is arguably the highlight, perhaps because it admits more of the world; once the boys are thrown together in their prison cell, the group dynamic never really changes, and Benigni's effervescence (are you Life Is Beautiful haters still allowed to enjoy this performance?) can only goose it so much. In particular, I wanted more of Lurie's hooker, lying there casually naked and concluding a bored harangue with the observation "if you was a good pimp, you'd have hit me by now." Ultimately, Down by Law is just a hangout film, throroughly enjoyable but slight, with what seems like a pessimistic shrug of a worldview. Structurally it's a carbon copy of Stranger Than Paradise—two doltish males find their lives invaded by a foreigner—but Eva's presence in Stranger is transformative, whereas Jack and Zack seem to learn nothing from their adventures with Roberto, parting ways in the final shot as if the entire movie had been a minor inconvenience to be soon forgotten. That might well be the point, but if so it doesn't hit terribly hard. Memo to Jarmusch: You should never ever make a film in color again, ever. No other contemporary director possesses the bone-deep understanding of black-and-white that you do. Night on Earth and Broken Flowers and even Ghost Dog look tame and hesitant compared to this, Dead Man, Int. Trailer. Night, etc. You work better leached.