Starring: Winona Ryder, Roberto Begnini, Giancarlo Esposito, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Director: Jim Jarmuch
At exactly the same time in five different cities around the globe, a cabbie picks up a fare. For the next twenty minutes we enter into the lives of both driver and passenger to discover that human beings are basically the same the world over. As the clock rewinds to each new time zone in Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth, we meet high flyers and low lives, drunks and clowns, people obsessed with race and others for whom outward appearances count for nought.
We touch down in New York to find a hip dude called YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito) unable to flag down a cab – perhaps the drivers assume he’s some gangsta rapper about to pull a gum on them? Finally an East German clown called Helmut Grokenberger (Armin Mueller-Stahl) kangaroo-jumps to a halt and picks him up. The pair struggle through their language barrier to find a common bond, one emphasised by the fact that they are wearing similar hats; as YoYo’s foul-mouthed sister (Rosie Perez) point out, they look like ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’.
Meanwhile, over in Paris, a Beninese cabbie evicts two drunken African racists and picks up a punk blind girl. Beatrice Dalle is mesmerising in this role and the driver can’t take his eyes off her as she expertly applies lipstick. Compared to his previous passengers who couldn’t pin him down, she has his number straight up.
It’s 4.07am in Rome and Roberto Begnini is on the rampage giving a lively commentary as he navigates up abandoned one-way streets. Eventually he spies a solitary priest looking for a cab. He tries to hide behind the statue in the square, reversing as the priest comes around to find him and accelerating when he trots the other way. It’s an hilarious bit of business.
The real weak link is the first ride in L.A. with Winona Ryder giving an unconvincing performance as a tomboy cabbie who picks up casting agent Gena Rowlands. And the final ride in Helsinki leaves one feeling a bit flat too. Still, Night on Earth is a sexy nocturnal trip thanks to the cinematography of Frederick Elmes. Next time you get into a cab at night, you might spare a thought for all those others around the planet who are doing exactly the same thing. You might not feel so alone.