Critic Reviews



Based on 20 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com
Alternately downbeat, witty, bleak and optimistic. Down by Law is a delight, right down to the unexpected last scene.
Time Out London
The claustrophobic setting and semi-improvised tone might suggest something closer to sitcom than cinema (had Jarmusch seen Porridge?), but Robby Müller’s stately monochrome photography single-handedly lifts it into the realm of Proper Art. It’s a sad and beautiful world indeed.
Down By Law is effortlessly laidback, superbly elegant. Jarmusch made it look easy.
The excitement of Down by Law comes not from what it's about. Reduced to its plot, it is very slight. But the plot isn't the point. The excitement comes from the realization that we are seeing a true film maker at work, using film to create a narrative that couldn't exist on the stage or the printed page of a novel.
Jarmusch's superb Down By Law can be described as many things–a minimalist fairytale, a modern twist on '30s prison dramas, an existential comedy–but it's memorable first and foremost as a richly textured look at old New Orleans and the enchanted bayou surrounding it.
Slant Magazine
Divorcing New Orleans from its stereotypes (there’s no ham-fisted Creole dialogue, no digs at the indigenous cuisine), the filmmaker imagines the boiling, boggy city as a purgatory for lost souls, spotted with cinephiliac mold.
In many ways, Down by Law feels like the quintessential Jarmusch. It's a perfect distillation of that strange whimsy and resolutely deadpan humour - harvested via the director's life-long passion for world cinema.
It doesn't have the inspired perfection of Stranger Than Paradise, in which every shot seemed inevitable. But it's a good movie, and the more you know about movies, the more you're likely to like it.
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.
Jarmusch likes to make movies that are slow and desultory and unresolved, and to beat him over the head with his vision would be unfair. In Down by Law, he's made that kind of movie, but he's worked from the outside in. He's made a Jim Jarmusch film instead of just making a film; his self-consciousness leaves you at arm's length.

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