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Down by Law


The story of three different men in a Louisiana prison and their eventual journey.

Release Year: 1986

Rating: 7.8/10 (18,539 voted)

Jim Jarmusch

Stars: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni

DJ Zack and pimp Jack end up in prison for being too laid-back to avoid being framed for crimes they didn't commit. They end up sharing a cell with eccentric Italian optimist Roberto, whose limited command of the English language is both entertaining and infuriating -but rather more useful to them is the fact that Roberto knows an escape route


Tom Waits


John Lurie


Roberto Benigni


Nicoletta Braschi


Ellen Barkin


Billie Neal


Rockets Redglare


Vernel Bagneris




L.C. Drane


Joy N. Houck Jr.

Detective Mandino

(as Joy Houck Jr.)

Carrie Lindsoe

Young Girl

Ralph Joseph


Richard Boes


Dave Petitjean

Cajun Detective

It's not where you start – It's where you start again.

Release Date: 30 October 1986

Filming Locations: Louisiana, USA

Box Office Details

Budget: $1,100,000


Opening Weekend: $49,840
(28 September 1986)
(6 Screens)

Gross: $3,144,445

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


Roberto Benigni's line "It's a sad and beautiful world" was the result of a misunderstanding. The script read "That's sad and beautiful music", but Benigni said "It's a sad and beautiful word", but Waits and Jarmusch misheard it and though he said "WORLD", and so, the line stuck.


[first lines]

Julie, what're you doing out here?

Just watching the light change.

User Review

Subtle grace masquerades as jail-break film

Rating: 10/10

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of Jarmusch's work is that the
pace is slow. I would like to make a case for patience. After all, if true
beauty and grace were delivered in one massive hit, our poor brains and
hearts would not withstand the blow.
In Down By Law, Jarmusch invites us to take some time, some real time and
devote it to getting deeply involved with his characters. Men in crisis.
Misfits, jailbirds, heartbreakingly human.
We accompany them on their journey, their escape from their confines. It is
a truly epic journey on a small geographical scale. We watch as they begin
to mirror one another, as their individual egos become inextricably enmeshed
in one another. We watch a friendship form.
And how can we begrudge the time Jarmusch takes for this glorious
exposition? How can we do anything but marvel at the fine detail in which
the scenes are drawn, at the subtle movements of our heroes? Every gesture
signifies worlds of meaning and consequence.
And Jarmusch does it better, with more skill and with more compassion than
anyone. If you are prepared to get involved, if you are brave enough to
commit to the journey, you will be rewarded with a kind of epiphany that few
films can offer.