The film is about storytelling, about how we make connections between people, places, objects and time to create meaning, and how, when these connections shift, meaning changes. Best of all are Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee as argumentative hotel receptionists hooked on Tom Waits' late night radio show. They, and Jarmusch's remarkably civilised direction, hold the whole shaggy dog affair together, turning it into one of the best films of the year.
Jarmusch's presence as a director is always felt, from moment to moment, in ways that are small but never random. Even establishing shots -- exteriors of buildings -- suggest his sardonic, quietly despairing vision. With Mystery Train, Jarmusch comes of age. [21 Dec 1989, p.E1]
As with Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law, Jarmusch focuses his offbeat sensibility on urban iconoclasts, small-town oddballs, and bewildered strangers. Not surprisingly, Mystery Train will work best for those who share Jarmusch's fondness for America's pop culture junkyard; he's a true original, but Jarmusch's originality lies in a quirky viewpoint that may leave some audience members cold.
The film is beautifully shot in saturated colour by Robby Muller, the cinematographer of Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas and many other remarkable looking films, but has one of those minimalist screenplays that drives one mad since nobody says anything which makes much sense at all. Its direction seems to ask us to look past the characters for significance, while enjoying their offbeat lifestyles. [07 Dec 1989]