Director: Jim Jarmusch | 119 minutes | comedy, crime, drama | Actors: Masatoshi Nagase, Yûki Kudô, Screamin ’Jay Hawkins, Cinqué Lee, Rufus Thomas, Jodie Markell, Nicoletta Braschi, Elizabeth Bracco, Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Royale Johnson, Winston Hoffman, Tom Waits
The backside of the American dream through the eyes of foreign passers-by, Jim Jarmusch provides us with the moving clumsy “Mystery Train”, a sketchy triptych set entirely in Memphis, Tennessee. By the way, you shouldn’t take the word clumsy too heavily. A film by master evocateur Jim Jarmusch is like walking into a smoky nightclub and inhaling deeply. Looking around, shaking your head; then you stumble home drunk, broke but carefree.
Jarmusch has got it right with America’s weeds, and that his actors sometimes can’t act very well, like Joe Strummer as suicidal amateur villain in the third triptych, so be it. Other characters are carved from marble, such as in “Mystery Train” for example the unforgettable hotel workers played by Screamin ‘Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee. From their run-down 24/7 establishment, two Japanese tourists are chasing the ghost of Elvis. He (Masatoshi Nagase) is a rock’n’roll freak with a poker face; she (Yûki Kudô) is the motor behind love.
Nothing more than charming and apparently little happens; yet the first film part is the most memorable. Iconic for the film is the shot of the two sitting at the foot of their hotel bed, both under the girl’s lipstick, trying to make her hypothermic friend laugh; The scene in which the two “have sex for the eleventh time” is legendary, a tragicomic performance by the contrast of the pumping poseur and the girl’s ability to see love in it.
As easily as Jarmusch sketches the human condition, he abandons his characters. The second part, in which brand-new widow Luisa (Nicoletta Braschi), while waiting for her return flight, shares a room with local DeeDee (Elizabeth Bracco), who has just thumped her boyfriend, is the least convincing. When Elvis’ ghost appears as a hologram in their hotel room and begins to sing “Blue Moon,” we think a little too much of David Lynch. It is nice that the grieving Luisa can see the ghost and chatterbox DeeDee cannot.
The third part is best enjoyed as a story, with the now deceased Strummer (singer-guitarist of The Clash), as a mugger against his will. Strummer is extremely charismatic, even though he and his buddy Will (Rick Aviles) really bumble around trying to play drunken thugs. Steve Buscemi is a real stumbler, and we would not be surprised that the Coen brothers have found inspiration for “The Big Lebowski” in this film part, in which Buscemi is allowed to validate Murphy’s Law as a kind of Donny-avant-la-lettre.