Well, this is probably my favorite of the Jarmuschs I've seen, but that's sort of like undergoing my favorite dental procedure. I just don't dig the dude's aesthetic. The filmmaking itself was beautiful, and Tom Waits was actually great. And of course the Rain Dogs songs were fabulous. But everything felt drained of emotion for me. As has happened before with Jarmusch movies, when I hear the premise I think it sounds great, but then the execution leaves me cold. I'd love to see almost any other director tackle this plot (three guys in jail, one guilty the other two "innocent," escape through the Louisiana swamp). For the most part, there's nothing bad about this movie; I just don't care for it.
I did say for the most part. The "Road Not Taken" thread was heavy-handed, pseudo-philosophical, and ultimately frivolous. I've always read Frost's most misread poem as a meditation on the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The roads aren't all that different after all, and the traveler imagines himself giving meaning to the arbitrary choice later. Since Walt Whitman also gets a shout-out, I think the movie is probably trying to say something about human freedom. These characters are placed in a situation in which they have no control, they "escape" from a series of prisons and ultimately go on to make their own lives, and choose their own paths (which isn't what I think the Frost poem is about, but whatever). Maybe that would have worked better for me if there was more of the characters' internal lives to hold on to.
All in all, it was relatively painless, but left me saying "meh." Why does the book have a crush on it, Nat? And were you wishing for more Ellen Barkin as well?