That's what this post was going to be about until I couldn't think of one movie involving jail time that is less interesting than Down by Law.
This is the first film by Jarmusch I've seen; sort of. I thought five to ten minutes of Dead Man didn't count but now I think I'm going to count it because any five to ten minute segment of Down by Law was more interesting than the whole and at least with only five to ten minutes I can pretend the rest is super interesting.
Methinks Jarmusch wants to be Tennessee Williams but fails miserably (what with the South, questionable characters, steamy b&w). And Jarmusch might have created the most boring film ever made to contain a DJ, a pimp, and a non-English speaking Italian murderer. How do you even do that? Seriously, I think these three could have been a bunch of monks who have taken a vow of silence locked up together and I would have been more interested.
The book perhaps states it best, describing the film as having "little embellishment" (although the book means that as a trait to praise). The problem is that no one's life has THAT little embellishment. No pimp or DJ is that damned boring a person. I found myself having a lot of time to figure out if John Lurie was making a face and puckering his lips the whole time or if his face just did that and trying to count the number of days Waits was marking on the wall and what exactly Waits' tattoos were. I shouldn't feel like I've gone to the Orleans Parish Prison for the Most Boring People to ever Commit Crimes. The guys in the cells next door sounded like they were having fun; I'd rather hang out with them.
Besides being one of the most boring movies to ever grace our TV (and I have actually watched a film about monks who have taken a vow of silence), it's highly problematic.
1. Within the first 13 minutes, not one but two women asked to be hit by the men they're talking to.
2. No one cares that Lurie and Waits were set up. Because, they're "bad" guys to begin with. Lurie is a pimp who obviously encounters/causes violence what with the gun. And Waits is obviously not new to crime because who the hell else but a criminal pays you a grand to drive a car across town (during which drive you consume a bottle of liquor)?
3. How exactly did they escape?
The good part is that I like Tom Waits' music (but already own Rain Dogs so who cares) and I would have paid to hear him sing more of Roy Orbison (or am I remembering the song he sang in the car wrong? The mail lady has already absconded with my copy so I can't check).
What says the book? My guess: LOVE Jarmusch because he's INDIE!!
So, yeah: "For Jarmusch fans it's a must see [I bet Jarmusch fans would have seen this already but whatever]. Even for his opponents it affirms the value of small-scale American film productions in opposition to the usual Hollywood fare." Ummmmmm. Nope. While I'm ALL FOR anything that is contra to the "usual Hollywood fare" of, say, Michael Bay, a damned boring Indie film does more to harm the Indie film industry than help it. Jarmusch, with this film, affirms movie fans that "indie" = "capital A art" = "boring as all get out." Just because nothing happens and nothing blows up does not make it a good movie and certainly does not make it a good movie for the cause. Frankly, the new Transformers (speaking of Bay) to be released this Friday makes a better case for indie films than this INDIE!!!! film does.
The book also notes, "Down by Law avoids cliche-ridden expressions and the usual restrictions of space and place." I actually thought that most, if not all, of the supporting cast was incredibly cliche-ridden. A criminal in a Zoot suit?
Luckily, we'll only be bored to death by two more of the Indie-King's films: Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man.