(1989, dir. Jim Jarmusch)
I haven’t seen a lot of Jim Jarmusch movies. Dead Man, which I didn’t much like. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which I loved. Coffee and Cigarettes, which is a fun diversion. (Mostly I just like that one because Tom Waits is in it.)
As a champion of indie cinema, I feel obligated to see movies like this. True auteur filmmaking, written and directed by one artist with a singular vision, shot on a shoestring budget and limited to a few locations. It’s right in my wheelhouse.
Mystery Train doesn’t break new ground, and Jarmusch doesn’t seem to be saying much of anything in particular, but the movie is great fun, filled with delightfully observed moments and strong performances.
The plot follows three stories, all taking place over a single night in Memphis. There are two young Japanese lovers on a rock ‘n roll odyssey, a young widow haunted by the ghost of Elvis, and a heartbroken ne’er-do-well who commits a sloppy crime and must disappear into the hot Memphis night.
These stories don’t exactly cross, but they do bump up against each other as all the characters crash at the same fleabag hotel, hosted by two utterly unimpressible night clerks who provide a narrative anchor and some hearty chuckles.
I don’t know that Mystery Train is essential viewing, but I enjoyed it. It’s an easy movie to watch, and the performances by Steve Buscemi, Tom Noonan, Elizabeth Bracco, and Yuoki Kudoh stand out.
Recommended, and currently streaming on FilmStruck.