Down By Law (1986)

 

"Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9!" - actual joke told by Benigni while on set
"Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9!" - actual joke told by Benigni while on set

Genre: Comedy Drama (USA, West Germany)

Starring: Tom Waits (Short Cuts • Coffee And Cigarettes), Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful • Night On Earth)

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man • Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai)

Overview: Three men in Louisiana all get themselves landed in the same prison cell, a radio Dj, a small-time pimp and a manslaughterin' Italian.

Performance:

Going in, I knew that Tom Waits would be that forgivable actor, the kind of player who you let in for all the coolness factor. As a good friend of mine put it, "when the Cool Kids make that movie for class they don't really have to act, they can just stand there and be cool, and that's enough." I knew this is the way it was going to be. Imagine my surprise when I realized he could act. Frankly, he's better than John Lurie, who I found awkward at times. Roberto Benigni on the other hand was that glue that kept them all together. Man, does he ever kick comedic ass.
Rating: 8

Cinematography:

Shot in a grainy black and white, it adds to the feel of the rough Louisiana lifestyle, and the prison cell they spend so much of their time in is perfectly claustrophobic. As with the rest of the film I wouldn't say anything caught my eye as standing out, but the bayou's a cool location to shoot, for sure.
Rating: 8

Script:

For as much as I enjoyed Tom's occasional singing, I was most pleased by the lines delivered by Benigni. His language barrier comedy stems not only from the script, but Roberto himself was also learning English during the filming, and he ad-libbed a lot of his character too, drawing on the limited mastery of the language he had.
Rating: 8

Plot:

It's the sort of tale with three distinct acts. First we meet the characters each while they're on the outside, then a little bit about the how they end up in jail. From there the misadventures and discussions tend to center around Waits' stoic self, Benigni's outgoing hilarity and Lurie's sardonic style. A simple entertaining and fun story about three people all to close to one another.
Rating: 8

Mood:

There is no film that has ever brought home the boredom and confinement of being in a prison cell as much as this one has. This drives it home perfectly with such scenes as fist fighting for the sake of changing up your day and imaginary discussions about rearranging the furniture in your 10 x 6. Lets you know how boring it is and how crazy it can make you without actually boring you yourself.
Rating: 8

They also taught Benigni wrong english. To this day he still says "I'm going to flame", meaning go take a leak.
They also taught Benigni wrong english. To this day he still says "I'm going to flame", meaning go take a leak.

Overall Rating: 80% (Get Down With It)
Aftertaste:

Jarmusch does it again, setting up a cool film with cool cats and though not a favorite, it's certainly a great film that I'm can safely say people will enjoy. With only one more Jarmusch film to complete my study of him, I hope his first film is just as good as my favorite of his works.

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