Monday, March 06, 2006

Down By Law

Here's the problem with Jim Jarmusch; He's one of those "sanctity of the moment" directors. I like the setup in this. Take three disparate characters, force them into close quarters and then see where they push each other. The problem is that Jarmusch just can't seem to reign in his own impulse to let the camera roll longer than it should and it makes the movie drag and takes away from the story. I understand that impulse; real life can be boring as hell and I'm sure he feels that capturing the quiet moments where his characters have nothing more to say somehow lends them greater weight, but it's a disservice to the actors and to the audience. There are moments of absurd genius (the "I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream" sequence is brilliant), but by surrounding them with what amounts to dead air it draws away from them and just gets tiresome. If your movie is barely 90 minutes and it seems like a three hour epic, you've done something wrong. Further, the actors, save Benigni, weren't up to the challenge. Put a camera on Benigni for 90 minutes and he's going to do something entertaining no matter how little direction you give him, but both Waits and Lurie seemed lost at times like they really wished Jarmusch would shut the camera off or give them some sort of direction already. Lurie did his best, but Waits simply isn't an actor. He's a serviceable bit player if you give him a script, but left on his own he'll stare sullenly at the floor and hope no one notices he's in the frame. I get the feeling if there were different men in the roles it would have been a different picture. In Coffee and Cigarettes, the best sequences were the ones where the participants had their own unique sense of humor and character. The Bill Murray/RZA/GZA scene is priceless. The Tom Waits/Iggy Pop one clunked. The difference? Murry, RZA, and GZA each played off of each other and dared the other not to laugh while Waits and Pop stared at each other wondering what to do next. Same thing in this one. Benigni did his best to spark some action, but Waits and Lurie didn't know what to do with it and stood around waiting for something to happen, but in vain. Maybe that's the point, that these losers are doomed by their own personal failings to stand around and wait, but don't make us wait with them.

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