Down By Law
Writer/director Jim Jarmusch is a national treasure, and "Down by Law" may be his masterpiece. Following two unfairly-framed convicts (Tom Waits, John Lurie) and their jovial cellmate (an admitted murderer - played by Roberto Beignini) as they rebel inside, outside, and on the run from the penitentiary, it ebbs and flows to a soulfully comedic rhythm all its own. Hilarious but melancholic, enraged yet subdued, the film is the perfect encapsulation of Jarmusch’s singular style of poetry.
And thanks to the Criterion Collection, it arrives in a package more than worthy of the film itself. The Blu-ray truly brings out the grainy detail in Jarmusch’s black-and-white film photography; revealing imagery in shadows and other barely-lit scenes that DVD would have left unintelligible. But the real treasure here isn’t the transfer, but the never-ending extras.
I would’ve been happy simply with the numerous Jarmusch interviews. We have a standard conversation, an extra where he answers fan-submitted questions (curated by Criterion themselves,) and yet another where we see him field questions at the Cannes festival where the film premiered. Criterion has even salvaged phone conversations held at the time (with his actors), and have included them here!
But it’s more than just a Jarmusch-fest in the extra features. Criterion has also included trailers, production stills, music videos, and outtakes, alongside their usual booklet and critical essays. "Down By Law" is like a lost American classic - too small to hit the mainstream, but too thematically expansive and stylistically audacious to ever be forgotten. Like Jarmusch himself.
"Down by Law"