The Limits of Control

Movies Reviews Jim Jarmusch
The Limits of Control

Release Date: May 1 (limited)

Writer/Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cinematographer: Christopher Doyle

Starring: Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, Bill Murray

Studio/Run Time: Focus Features, 82 mins.

The film plays like a marbling of Ghost Dog, arguably his best

Silent pondering of art, the universe, violence, coffee

The central character in Jim Jarmusch’s latest is technically called Lone Man, but his name might as well be Mysterious Badass. Like Forest Whittaker in Ghost Dog, the Lone Man is a disciplined outsider, practicing tai chi and refusing sex. “The universe has no center and no edges,” an equally anonymous bossman named French tells him in French (the Creole translator named Creole comically refusing to translate), sending De Bankolé careening across Spain on an unspecified mission.

As the Badass—an existential agent, get it?—does his work, he has self-referential encounters with other anonymous figures: Nude (a very naked Paz De La Huerta), Blonde (Tilda Swinton), Mexican (Gael Garcîa Bernal), American (Bill Murray). Marbling the violent tension of Ghost Dog, possibly Jarmusch’s best film, with the pretentious conversations of Coffee and Cigarettes, arguably his worst, The Limits of Control will satisfy a certain kind of film freak.

In the accompanying press materials, an interview with Jarmusch references Arthur Rimbaud, William S. Burroughs, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jacques Rivette, John Boorman, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Pierre Melville, Frencesco Rosi, Donald Westlake, Luc Sante and Lee Marvin—all before getting to De Bankolé’s character or, say, the plot. It’s that kind of film, existing more in dialogue with the eternal cinema (and greater culture) than the audience taking it in.

Which is to say, it’s also exquisite. Nearly every shot by Jarmusch and cinematographer Christopher Doyle is breathtaking. Every lobby the Badass passes through is distinct, each stairwell visually engaging. Likewise, Jarmusch’s plot comes with a loaded elegance. Like the Lone Man himself, Jarmusch leaves no clues. One is expected to surrender to De Bankolé’s righteousness, a stand-in for Jarmusch, trusting him to deliver resolution.

With a chiseled face as distinct as any of the rooms Jarmusch and Doyle have picked for him, De Bankolé’s strong, quiet Lone Man isn’t strong enough to bear the episodic non-plot. “Watch out for the guitar,” he’s told, and is soon studying cubist six-strings in a Spanish museum (before John Hurt shows up to give him one of his own).

“Watch out for the girl,” says someone else. “She’s a criss-cross.” And perhaps she is. Though naked, De La Huerta serves as the film’s dressing, the trappings of convention. But Jarmusch’s payoff is as austere and plain as his plot. At least the Badass gets his job done.

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