A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" assembles five moments in time, in taxicabs, in the middle of the night, in five of the world's cities. At the end, we have learned no great lessons and arrived at no thrilling conclusions, but we have shared the community of the night, when people are unbuttoned and vulnerable - more ready to speak about what's really on their minds.
In Los Angeles, a casting agent tries to convince a tough young female cabbie that she might have a career in the movies. In New York, a black passenger becomes convinced that his driver, from Germany, will never make it to Brooklyn without help. In Paris, a taxi driver from the Ivory Coast throws out some tipsy African diplomats and picks up a harsh, wounded blind girl. In Rome, a cabbie insists on describing his sexual peculiarities to the priest who is having a heart attack in the back seat. And in Helsinki, on the edge of a cold winter dawn, it's a toss-up whether the passengers or the drivers have a more tragic story to tell.
Jarmusch is a poet of the night. Much of "Night on Earth" creates the same kind of lonely, elegaic, romantic mood as "Mystery Train," his film about wanderers in nighttime Memphis. Tom Waits' music helps to establish this mood of cities that have been emptied of the waking. It's as if the minds of these night people are affected by all of the dreams and nightmares that surround them.
Jarmusch is not interested in making each segment into a short story with an obvious construction. There are no zingers at the end. He's more concerned with character; with the relationship that forms, for example, between a tattooed, gum-chewing, chain-smoking young cabdriver (Winona Ryder) and the elegant executive (Gena Rowlands) who wants to cast her for a movie. "I've got my life all mapped out," says the Ryder character, who hopes to work her way up to mechanic. "There must be lotsa girls who want to be in the movies. Not me." The movie doesn't insist that the cabbie is right or wrong; it simply reports her opinion.