NIGHT ON EARTH
(director/writer: Jim Jarmusch; cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; editor: Jay Rabinowitz; music: Tom Waits; cast: Winona Ryder (Corky), Gena Rowlands (Victoria Snelling), Giancarlo Esposito (YoYo), Armin Müller-Stahl (Helmut Grokenberger), Rosie Perez (Angela), Isaach De Bankolé (Driver, Paris), Béatrice Dalle (Blind Woman), Roberto Benigni (Driver, Rome), Paolo Bonacelli (Priest), Matti Pellonpää (Mika); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jim Jarmusch; Criterion Collection; 1991-USA-in Spanish-German-French-Italian-Finnish- English-parts subtitled in English)
“Takes us to places most other filmmakers never do.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Jim Jarmusch (“Mystery Train”/”Down by Law”/”Stranger Than Paradise”) offers us a global trip in five cities — Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki — over the course of a single winter night. We go on five taxi rides in the five cities to experience different cultures, to observe lonely souls interacting in the taxi and get to see a different set of international stars in each vignette. The film’s slight plot is outweighed by the character driven atmospheric story, that has its hilarious deadpan moments.
The weakest episode is the opening one in Los Angeles, where tomboyish, bubble gum chewing, army fatigue wearing cabbie Winona Ryder (the only one in the pic who is miscast) picks up at the airport her elitist Hollywood casting agent fare, Gena Rowlands, and drives to her luxury Beverly Hills digs. Gena, when not on the cell phone, is trying to convince the cabbie, who aspires to be a mechanic, that she would be just right for her next picture. The strongest episode is the last one set in Helsinki, where Matti Pellonpaa is the taxi driver trying to tell his story of woe to a trio of drunk workmen fares with woes of their own. Roberto Benigni is the driver in Rome who offers a funny monologue as he confesses his sexual sins to a priest, who has a heart attack in the back-seat. The black Giancarlo Esposito is the fare and the East German exile Armin Mueller-Stahl is the poor driving cabbie who make for an odd but amusing team in New York, as the cabbie goes to Brooklyn and stops to pick up a non-stop talking Rosie Perez while Giancarlo takes over the wheel. Isaach De Bankolé as a defensive Ivory Coast native transplanted to Paris is the cabbie who converses about sight and sex with the beautiful, blind, and contentious Béatrice Dalle, who in a funny way attacks him for condescending to the handicapped.
Jarmusch’s most accessible film is cute, bleak, observant and takes us to places most other filmmakers never do, but never takes off as more than a minor delight as a shaggy-dog globe-hopping story. Tom Waits adds his unique raspy musical vocals to the film, giving it a ballsy blast.
REVIEWED ON 10/26/2008 GRADE: B+