(Review originally written at 9 January 2007)

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie takes an original approach on the prison-movie genre. Instead of going over-the-top in its drama and emotions, the movie prefers to keep the movie deliberately small and personal with its characters and emotions. It makes "Down by Law" an original and always intriguing movie to watch, though not necessarily better than other genre movies.

It's a typically slowly told and build up movie, with long beautiful shots and lots of shots without any spoken lines. It does make the movie feel way longer than it really is but this really is not complaint, since I liked what I got to see all.

In essence the movie is three in one. The movie begins with the (long) character introduction of the two main characters played by Tom Waits and John Lurie. Two low-life small criminals who get framed for two serious crimes they didn't commit. When they're in prison and are joined by the other criminal played Roberto Benigni, the entire movie gets situated in that one prison cell. It doesn't even provide us a look on their hallway-view. It shows that all they have inside the prison cell is each other. They don't really want to be friends, also because they differ from each other but circumstances forces them to create a solid bond of friendship, that only grows stronger when the three of them escape prison (also the escape itself is conveniently not fully shown). When they have escaped the movie gets different again, when the three main characters depend on each other for their survival.

The movie is atmospherically filmed in black & white. It does make the movie feel older but timeless at the same time. The atmosphere and storytelling reminded me of some good classics from the '40's. I definitely think that Jim Jarmusch is an underrated director, with already a long list of great movies behind his name. He knows how to tell a story compelling and original, without many resources or money.

The acting is great, though by no means any of the actors are the greatest. The choose to make their characters work out realistic and humane, rather than they try to impress and show of their acting skills. It makes us feel involved with them and makes the story work out so much more powerful and interesting to follow. Tom Waits and John Lurie are great two tough guys and Roberto Benigni is put in for the more comical note.

It's definitely true that the movie is way more entertaining and humor filled than you at first sight would expect. The movie certainly doesn't begins as a comedy but it subtly turns into one as the story progresses. I expected an heavy, serious drama but instead I got a light and entertaining one. It was a delightful surprise and made "Down by Law" definitely a great and pleasant viewing experience.

A great little, underrated movie!


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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