Wesley R. Ball’s review published on Letterboxd:
Jim Jarmusch has always had a fascination with the American culture, and none could ever be so more apparent than the opening vignette of Mystery Train, a delightful and mystical comedy that intertwines three tales together around one mysterious incident in a hotel late one night. The first scene, portraying a couple of Japanese tourists making their way from a train station through Memphis, showcases the individuality of that city- herein memorialized as the Elvis Presley capital of the country- and the ultimate culture clash that often results in brief moments of hilarity. But what really ties this story and all of its characters together is its idiosyncratic mid 20th century style hotel where everyone ends up to stay the night. Its neon sign a welcoming and beckoning call to weary travelers and wanderers, a place where everyone will be brought together in an instant of unexpected tragedy.
Each vignette ends with the same sound- that of a gunshot. Each one driving the anticipation further as to what that shot was for. And as this mystery slowly begins to unravel itself and characters begin to cross paths in different stories, their individual lives are not as different as they may have first appeared. It's this celebration of the commonalities found in spite of cultural individualities that drives Mystery Train forward. Jarmusch favors an old west-style view of the American cityscape, skyscrapers and modern day restaurants don't litter the town, but rather a wide, deserted atmosphere rolls over the area like a ghost. He believes in an America for the lone wanderers and night stalkers- the social pariahs that prefer to roam the less populated areas to get a sense of the America from times gone by. Jarmusch misses that time, his characters are constantly in search of the America from before her urbanization.
That's where the hotel becomes the central figure. It's a relic of time gone by. Where these characters can feel like they're in their own time where they belong. Away from the industrialization of modern American culture. Where they can be whisked back into a wider world that encompasses the America they had dreamed of in the days of old. Mystery Train challenges its characters and by extension the audience to discover the America they really wanted to know. There's a different style of this country for every single walk and way of life, if you can look hard enough to find it. People coming into this film looking for a strict narrative will walk away disappointed- it's not plot driven in the least, its motivations are completely run by the characters; much like the adventures of Star in American Honey. It's a precursor to the cultural examinations that will be expanded upon two years later with Night on Earth, yet both films should be considered equally important for their celebrations of cultural diversity as a whole.