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Down by Law

Zack (Tom Waits) is caught driving a car with a body in the trunk and Jack (John Lurie) is found by the cops in a hotel room with an unquestionably underage girl. Both men are framed. They wind up in the slammer, in the same cell. Third cell mate is Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who speaks fractured English but whose naive friendliness proves contagious.

Zack (Tom Waits) is caught driving a car with a body in the trunk and Jack (John Lurie) is found by the cops in a hotel room with an unquestionably underage girl. Both men are framed. They wind up in the slammer, in the same cell. Third cell mate is Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who speaks fractured English but whose naive friendliness proves contagious.

After several funny scenes, the Italian proposes they escape, ‘just like they do in American movies’. And so they do, out into the Louisiana swamps and eventually stumble on an isolated, unlikely diner where, surprise, surprise, the owner chef is a lonely Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi) who immediately falls for Benigni.

The Jim Jarmusch penchant for off-the-wall characters and odd situations is very much in evidence. The black-and-white photography is a major plus, and so is John Lurie’s score, with songs by Tom Waits. Both men are fine in their respective roles, but Benigni steals the film.

Down by Law

  • Production: Black Snake/Grohenberger. Director Jim Jarmusch; Producer Jim Jarmusch; Screenplay Jim Jarmusch; Camera Robby Muller; Editor Franck Kern; Music John Lurie; Art Director Roger Knight
  • Crew: (B&W) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1986. Running time: 106 MIN.
  • With: Tom Waits John Lurie Roberto Benigni Nicoletta Braschi Ellen Barkin
  • Music By: