Down by Law

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Promotional poster for Down by Law

Down By Law (1986) is the fourth feature film from director Jim Jarmusch. The film was written by Jarmusch and is filmed in black and white by regular Jarmusch cinematographer Robbie Müller (Paris, Texas, Repo Man, Buena Vista Social Club), who has also worked with Jarmusch on more recent projects Ghost Dog, Dead Man, and Mystery Train. The film stars musician Tom Waits along with Jarmusch regulars John Lurie and Roberto Benigni. The music for the film was written by Lurie, and songs by Waits also feature.

The film centres around the arrest, incarceration and escape from jail of three men: Zack (Waits), Jack (Lurie) and Bob (Benigni). The film discards with many of the conventions of the jailbreak movie, focussing on the interaction between the three men rather than the mechanics of the escape. Müller's camerawork is a key element in the film, his slow-moving camerawork evocatively capturing the architecture of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou to where the cellmates escape.

The part of Nicoletta is played by Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni's wife.


Three men, previously unknown to each other, are arrested on the same night in New Orleans and placed in the same cell. Both Zack, a DJ, and Jack, a pimp, have been set up, neither having committed the crime for which they have been arrested. Their cellmate, Bob, however, although the only true innocent of the three, is in fact guilty of the murder for which he has been arrested. Zack and Jack soon come to blows and therafter try to avoid speaking to each other. Bob, however, has an irrepressible need for conversation and will not be silenced by the immature, sulking ne'er-do-wells. Bob hatches a plan to escape, and before long the three are on the run through the swamp surrounding the prison. Hopelessly lost and with a simmering hatred between Jack and Zack almost causing the party to split up, they are brought together by Bob's ability to provide food. By chance the three chance across a house in the forest, the residence of Nicoletta. Bob and Nicoletta fall instantly in love, and Bob decides to stay with her in the forest. Zack and Jack go their separate ways, an unspoken, begrudging friendship hanging between them as they part.


  • Tom Waits .... Zack
  • John Lurie .... Jack
  • Roberto Benigni .... Roberto
  • Nicoletta Braschi .... Nicoletta
  • Ellen Barkin .... Laurette
  • Billie Neal .... Bobbie
  • Rockets Redglare .... Gig
  • Vernel Bagneris .... Preston
  • Timothea .... Julie
  • L.C. Drane .... L. C
  • Joy N. Houck Jr. .... Detective Mandino
  • Carrie Lindsoe .... Young Girl
  • Ralph Joseph .... Detective
  • Richard Boes .... Detective
  • Dave Petitjean .... Cajun Detective

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