Down By Law, Jim Jarmusch’s jailbreak movie, is an unparalleled joy to watch for the first time. Starring Jarmusch regulars Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni, it tells the story of three men who form an alliance after meeting in prison. Zack (Waits) is a distracted radio DJ who is led to the slammer by his desire to make a quick buck, having agreed to caddy a Mercedes out of town, unaware of its contents. Jack (Lurie) is an amateur pimp whose clumsiness and greed eventually lead him to the same fate and, eventually, the same cell. Taking cue from one another, the two men puff out their chests, determined not to be seen as the weaker of the pair. All this changes dramatically when a third criminal, Bob (Benigni), joins them. With his enthusiasm for human interaction and constant repetition of trite English idioms, Bob’s presence is initially met with scepticism, but opinions quickly change once he brews an escape plan. Soon the three are on the run in the open air, the group hierarchy constantly shifting as they traverse the twilit bayou outside.
While escape stories are often entertaining, Jarmusch acknowledges that his characters are far more interesting than their predicaments. The three lead actors make this experience more than worthwhile, particularly Benigni, whose ravings at times become bigger than the film itself. Combining a magnetic and frequently funny script with a rich canvas of light, this is a film that all budding cineastes need to watch.