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Down by Law(1986)
A pair of petty thiefs/losers end up in a jail cell with an Italian tourist. In a strange twist of luck, the three manage to escape and wander the backwoods in search of what to do next.
For more about Down by Law and the Down by Law Blu-ray release, see Down by Law Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 5, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Ellen Barkin, John Lurie
Director: Jim Jarmusch
» See full cast & crew
Down by Law Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 5, 2012
Nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law" (1986) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an original theatrical trailer for the film; video interview with cinematographer Robby Muller; video interview with actor and composer John Lurie; footage from the press conference following the film's screening at the Cannes Film Festival; video interview with director Jim Jarmusch; outtakes; Q&A session with director Jim Jarmusch; production Polaroids; location stills; and a lot more. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Luc Sante. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
The film tells the story of three men who meet in a Louisiana prison. The first two, Zack (Tom Waits, Rumble Fish) and Jack (John Lurie, Stranger Than Paradise), are local losers, the third man, Roberto (Roberto Benigni, Johnny Stecchino, Life is Beautiful), is a clueless Italian tourist.
First we see how Zack ends up behind bars. On the day he loses his job at a New Orleans radio station, his slightly crazy girlfriend (Ellen Barkin) also kicks him out and warns him to stay away from her. While sitting on a pile of garbage, drinking bourbon and trying to figure out what to do, a man offers Zack $1,000 to drive a very nice imported car from one location to another. He agrees, but the cops pull him over and arrest him after they discover that the car is stolen and there is a dead man in the trunk.
Jack, who is a small-time pimp with big ambitions, is visited by Fatso, a competitor, who has a gift for him - "a piece of chicken" out of this world, a true "Cajun goddess" waiting in a hotel room somewhere in downtown New Orleans. Jack shows up in the hotel to check out his gift, but so does the vice squad. The "Cajun goddess" turns out to be an underage girl and he is immediately arrested.
A bit later on, Roberto enters the picture. He is placed in the same cell where Zack and Jack already can't stand each other. Both are angry because they have realized that they have been framed, but Roberto isn't. He casually confesses to his new friends that he belongs in prison because he killed a man. He did not want to, but he had to. The man caught him cheating while playing cards. Roberto apparently tried to escape, but the man followed him and threw a billiard ball at him. Roberto threw one back - number eight, a very good, black ball – and killed him.
Eventually, Roberto comes up with an escape plan, and Zack and Jack decide to give it a chance. Much to their surprise Roberto's plan works, and the three quickly end up in the swamp, having absolutely no idea which way to go. Somehow they manage to get to the Texas border, where they see a small inn. Despite speaking very little English, Roberto is sent to see whether the place is safe.
Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law is both a sad and incredibly funny film. It is a sad film because it shows a side of New Orleans most Americans probably became aware of only after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the city. The empty streets littered with garbage, the abandoned cars, and the lonely night workers looking for clients that are seen in the first half give the film a very distinctive flavor – a blend of noir and gritty realism.
The second half belongs to Benigni, the great Italian comedian, who singlehandedly manages to change the tone of the film with his hilarious remarks, in very broken English, and facial expressions. There are large sequences that would have looked and felt incredibly dull without him simply because there isn't a lot happening there, yet because of his presence these sequences are some of the best in the entire film.
Jarmusch and Dutch cinematographer Robby Muller (Repo Man, Barfly) are an unbeatable team. Shot in black and white, Down by Law is a strikingly poetic film. The panoramic vistas from the bayou, in particular, are superb. Earlier in the film, the way the camera captures the long shadows in the city is also very effective.
Note: In 1986, Down by Law was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Down by Law Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the leaflet provided with this Blu-ray release:
Supervised by director Jim Jarmusch, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a SCANITY film scanner from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Image Systems' Phoenix and Pixel Farm's PFClean were used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction, jitter, and flicker.
Telecine supervisors: Jim Jarmusch, Lee Kline, Maria Palazzola.
Colorist: Sheri Eisenberg/Colorworks, Culver City, CA."
The high-definition transfer is excellent. There are some tremendously beautiful sequences in the film that convey depth and clarity that are simply missing from Criterion's DVD release (see screencapture #18). The nighttime footage is also terrific, looking crisp and sharp, never suffering from the macroblocking patterns that pop up on the DVD release. Additionally, there isn't even a whiff of edge-enhancement. There is a light well resolved layer of grain throughout the entire film. Contrast levels are also stable. Color reproduction does not disappoint either - the blacks are well saturated and solid, never looking boosted, while the grays and whites are perfectly balanced. Finally, there are absolutely no large debris, cuts, or stains to report in this review. To sum it all up, this Blu-ray release offers a tremendous upgrade in quality over the old DVD release of the film. Clearly, Down by Law has never looked this good before. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Down by Law Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. and French Dolby Digital 1.0 (dub track). For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
There are no serious issues to report with the lossless track. The dialog is exceptionally crisp, always stable, and very easy to follow. John Lurie's score is quite nice, but there are no long and prominent solos. Unsurprisingly, the lossless track's overall dynamic amplitude is rather limited. For the record, there are no pops, cracks, distortions, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Note: The Blu-ray disc also contains an isolated music track (English Dolby Digital 1.0).
Down by Law Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Down by Law Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Releases such as this one are one of many reasons why Criterion are considered by many the best distributor around. I simply do not believe that if a different party were to tackle Jim Jarmusch's film we would have seen such an impressive Blu-ray package. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. Down by Law looks terrific in high-definition, and as far as I am concerned it is this month's most exciting release. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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