Down by Law is a 1986 black-and-white independent film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It stars Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni. The film centres on the arrest, incarceration and escape from jail of three men.
The film discards jailbreak film conventions by focusing on the interaction between the three men rather than on the mechanics of the escape. A key element in the film is Robby Müller’s slow-moving camerawork, which captures the architecture of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou to which the cellmates escape.
Three men, previously unknown to each other, are arrested 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, an Italian tourist who understands minimal English, was arrested for manslaughter. Zack and Jack soon come to blows and thereafter avoid speaking to each other. Bob has an irrepressible need for conversation. He 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. 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.