Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Night on Earth (1991)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, downloaded from the innernet.

I am soooo close to Jim Jarmusch completism! I need to see Down By Law! But first, Night on Earth, one of his better-loved films that takes a look at five eventful cab rides across the Western world taking place at the same hour. A plucky young mechanic-in-training (Winona Ryder) ferries an overworked studio agent (Gena Rowlands) from LAX; a loudmouth New Yorker (Giancarlo Esposito) takes over the cab from its navigationally-challenged new driver who can't drive (Armin Mueller-Stahl); a put-upon Parisian (Isaach De Bankolé) gives a late-night ride to a pretty blind woman (Béatrice Dalle); a goofy Italian cabbie (Roberto Benigni) zooms around Rome while narrating jokingly to himself and shocking his priestly fare; and a trio of drunks in Helsinki are picked up by a depressed driver who feels little sympathy for their woes.

Night on Earth exhibits much of the typical Jarmuschyness: it's talkie, it's metropolitan, it's cool, it's as quirky-funny as it is thought-provoking. And it has a crazy cast! Seriously, Jarmusch must just know everyone I guess? But like so many vignette films, it's a little hit and miss. I really enjoyed the LA, New York, and Rome segments but the Paris and Helsinki ones aren't quite as strong. Then again I could see plenty of other people completely loving those and not liking the others. While each portion maintains certain themes and elements intrinsic to Jarmusch's filmmaking, there is enough variety of subject, acting style, and mood to offer something for most viewers. And Tom Waits did the soundtrack, so that should be a turn-on for everybody.

While I loved the photography and deft mix of comedy and drama, I think the cast really helps make this movie so pleasurable. I always love Winona Ryder, and she is fun and downright spunky as the baby-faced cab driver Corky. Ryder really embodies the late 80s/early 90s for me and this is a clear example of her awesomeness during that time (not that she isn't still great!). Giancarlo Esposito (HELLO GUS!) and Armin Mueller-Stahl are my new favorite odd couple, and Robert Benigni is twisted and hilarious in his neverending ramblings. Isaach de Bankolé continues to captivate me with his face. Every time I look at him I get all "I have to draw you..." and it's a little sad. (Incidentally, I did sketch him once after The Limits of Control.)

Like the rest of my experiences with Jarmusch, I found Night on Earth entertaining and well-scripted, but I didn't all-out love it. I like that it's a little more accessible and straightforward than some of his other films, but the disconnected vignette style worked against it as a whole since I didn't love every piece. Still pretty rad though!


Pair This Movie With: For more Jarmusch vignette-y goodness there is of course Coffee and Cigarettes. It's got Bill Murray! (But don't tell anyone he's here.) Or watch an episode of Cash Cab.


  1. I am awful.

    I don't think I have got anywhere near completing any directors filmography.

    Apart from Steve McQueen, but that isn't hard is it? 2 films...LOL

    Jarmusch has been on my to do list for too long.

    Great write up matey

  2. Helsinki was my favorite segment--I remember feeling like I'd been punched in the emotional gut when it ended. Begnini in Rome was my runner-up. I remember feeling "meh" about the other 3 episodes. Haven't seen it since it came out 20 years ago (damn I feel old now!), so my opinions could have changed. "When I was a boy, the moon was a pearl..."

  3. Have you seen 'Ghost Dog' yet? De Bankole has a funny part in that. And yeah, you should totally draw him.

  4. Night on Earth on of Jarmusch's better loved films? I haven't really heard anything about it stating it to be anything but minor Jarmusch. I think you're in the majority with this review and not the minority. Good review though.

  5. Love this one. All the segments are great in their own right but Roberto Benigni's bit has to be the best. Such a wonderful performance and he's shown some of his best work under the direction of Jarmusch.