The Limits of Control
The latest from Jim Jarmusch is an odd and interesting picture that looks fantastic, has some nice moments, but leaves one scratching their head almost as much as they are enjoying the picture.
The film follows and unnamed man who is “on the job” but we are never really led on to what that job is for almost the entirety of the film. Dealing with cryptic messages passed along to him in similar matchbox’s, which he in turn eats the piece of paper it was written on, the unnamed man moves from meet to meet, collecting information for his ultimate goal, which we assume is a criminal act of some sort. Whether he is a hitman, a thief, or something else, we are never entirely sure till the act happens, but the Lone Man’s process, everyday life, meticulous nature, and the many encounters he has with his random messengers are the focus of the film. After a quick meeting in an airport somewhere in Spain, The Lone Man is off on a plane to an unnamed city in Spain where he quietly awaits his first message doing a form of martial arts, visiting the local art museum, and drinking “two espressos, separate cups” at the corner café. The only interaction he has with his messengers is a brief conversation, usually very one-sided to that of the messenger, outside a mysterious naked female visitor that is almost magically in his apartment one night and stays with him for a couple more before appearing in the shadows of his journey as he heads towards his ultimate goal that unfolds from messenger to messenger.
I understand that after that plot summary, you might be left a bit befuddled as to what this film is all about. It is almost one part anti-spy film and one part Coffee and Cigarettes that Jarmusch did a few years ago. I say that in because when the lone man is on his own he does nothing but kind of relax and meander. We are left to imply he is a thief, or spy, or something of those sorts and we just see him carry out his day to day activities which are usually not very interesting. If this was a big budget action film, The Lone Man would constantly be on the run, ducking the police, and in constant peril. But our lead is just able to live a simple day to day life and slowly work towards his ultimate goal. He also doesn’t use guns or really any real weapons of the sort, while also sustaining from sex while on the job. So our spy-ish hero type that we are following is the complete opposite of Bond, who would be banging his naked visitor in no time as she is practically throwing herself at our hero.
The conversations that the messengers and the Lone Man have are what harkens to Jarmusch’s previous film as they feel like vignettes slipped into this man’s everyday life. The discussions range from life to movies to death, and are very self aware of the story. These conversations are rather hit or miss, with one on a train just being excruciating to get through. They gimmick also tends to begin to feel pretty tired by the 4th or 5th one and this in part due to the repetitive structure of these conversations and the lack of anything terribly interesting discussed in a couple of the later discussions.
The film looks great though and Jarmusch captures some wonderful images while we peer through the eyes of the Lone Man as he observes the world around him and we watch him head down his path. But with that said, the film’s pacing is at that of a snail, and while that is fine when it is interesting there are just too many dead spots in the film to really justify the pacing. The film as a whole could have used quite a bit of trimming in between each conversation and a bit less of a repetitive feel to the picture would have helped liven things up as well. With all this said though, the film kept me interested enough that I cared to see what happened in the end, and really surprised me with its beauty on a number of occasions; but I don’t know how recommendable the film is.
The acting in the film is ok to good with many great actors popping in and out as the messengers, but with only Tilda Swinton really standing out with a truly interesting and unique character in love with old films. John Hurt is solid as always as Guitar though I feel like we could have gotten a bit more out of his screen time. Same goes for Gael Garcia Bernal how has a bit of that sly charm going for him but feels like a missed opportunity overall. Bill Murray is also fine in his three minutes in the film, but they don’t come till the end, so if you are in it for him, know there is a lot to get through before a nothing special character for the great actor. Isaach De Bankole plays the Lone Man and does the main part of his character well which is to intrigue and interest us. With little dialogue in the film for him, he still creates a very interesting and compelling character that holds our interest in this simple and uneventful film enough that we want to see where he ends up.
In the end, The Limits of Control is a sometimes engaging, beautifully shot, minimalist’s picture. Things tend to get a bit repetitive at times and some of the conversations which are the focus of much of the film are not terribly interesting are engaging. Still, I wanted to know what happened in the end and was engage with trying to figure out exactly what Jarmusch is doing with the picture and in the end I think I grasped at least a piece of that. Definitely not for everyone, and not even that recommendable unless you are a fan of the director, I still was glad I saw the film and enjoyed a number of things about it, I just wish there had been a bit more too it in the end and a bit less repetitive.
I give it a D