Down by Law | Chicago Reader

Down by Law

Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise follow-up (1986), about three small-time cons (John Lurie, Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni) who bust out of jail, only to find that life on the outside isn't any more interesting than life indoors. Jarmusch has opened up his style a bit in the direction of conventional pulp melodrama, but the results are decidedly mixed. Some scuzzily noirish moments, thanks to Robby Müller's slick black-and-white cinematography, but once the deadbeat trio get thrown into their cell, the film comes to a virtual halt: it's minimalism reinforcing minimalism, with none of the subtle counterpoint between movement and stasis, environmental opening out and psychological shrinking in, that gave Stranger its small energetic charge. Even Müller seems defeated by the formal enervation; his rich, textured images look incongruously out of place amid the entropic winding down. A few good absurdist laughs (also some infantile ones), but on the whole I've had more fun in Cleveland. R, 106 min.


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