What the hell, a Criticasm review by sneaky? No need to check your farm animals, my friend. They haven’t suddenly developed wings, while you were out do to groceries. Christmas has just come early this year and I can now finally present you my long-postponed third article. Admittedly the film in question has already left the cinemas ages ago, but I still really want to share my thoughts about it with you. It has been a personally favourite of mine since I saw it last year on one faithful summer evening at the gorgeous Edinburgh Filmhouse and I feel it has somewhat been overlooked.
In Jim Jarmusch’s latest feature THE LIMITS OF CONTROL the underrated Isaach De Bankolé is playing an unnamed lone wolf assassin purposefully on a mission that throughout the film will remain almost completely unintelligible to the viewer. Right from the start it’s made clear this will not your typical killer-for-hire plot. De Bankolé’s modern day sharkskin suit wearing cowboy is seen gliding through Charles de Gaulle Airport, where he gets his mission instructions from two peculiar gangsters uttering cryptic phrases such as “Everything is subjective,” “The universe has no center and no edges; reality is arbitrary,” and “Use your imagination and your skills”. Our protagonist seems to access the unexplained mission and sets out for a journey to an undisclosed destination, meeting up with a variety of very out equally peculiar people in cafes and on trains along the way.
These meetings are the core of the film and each one follows the same basic pattern. The Lone Man simply orders two espressos (No, not one double espresso, TWO separate cups of espresso!) and waits for his contact to arrive and ask him ““Usted no habla español, verdad?”, to which he stoically responds “No”. This then leads to the contact telling him some peculiar story and ends with them exchanging matchboxes. A code hidden on a small piece of paper inside each matchbox is quickly memorized and swallowed with the remainder of his second espresso. These coded message together with the cryptic phrases uttered by the strange characters somehow seem to lead The Lone Man onwards to his next rendezvous. Occasionally he will make curious trips to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, where he seems to be able to make sense of some of the code words he received by looking at pieces of modern art.
Throughout the movie Lone Man travels through some of the Spain’s most beautiful locations (Madrid, Sevilla and finally Almería), but he never is distracted by his surroudings or the people he meets. Not even by a gorgeous horn-rimmed glasses wearing Paz de la Huerta, who has apparently carved a nich for herself in today’s Hollywood as the go-girl for roles requiring carefree nakeness. Our protagonist always sticks to his mysterious assignment and never forsakes it or his daily routine of Tai Chi, which we are shown every time without fail. In fact, the whole movie is full of these constantly recurring moments and Jarmusch never discrupts them. Together with the breathtaking images shoot by Chistopher Doyle (known for his work with Wong Kar-Wai and Gus van Sant) and an atmospheric soundtrack courtesy of Japanese drone gods Boris it allows the film to convey a pleasant “groove” that can totally absorb the viewer. This is definitely a movie that one needs to want to get lost in, and like a great piece of music you might just need to let go and follow the vibe, absorbing Jarmusch’s conjured up sense of tension and space.
Although far more more enjoyable then the suspiciously similar themed, but in this writer’s opinion far inferior, Anton Corbijn/George Clooney flick THE AMERICAN, watching these kind of films can still be a trying experience for some viewers. That said, even for the most impatient of viewers there is more than enough to enjoy. Jarmusch’s famous iconic deadpan humour as known from GHOST DOG or DOWN BY LAW is again in full-display here. And while THE LIMITS OF CONTROL sometimes can feel like an excuse for Jarmusch to have his best hipster friends (Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, John Hurt, among others) come over to Spain, get dressed up in weird outfits and talk philosophic trash, their monologues are mostly funny enough to ignore the glare reflecting off their designer sunglasses.
With THE LIMITS OF CONTROL Man Jarmusch has delivered us somewhat of a modern day western or gangster film, one that respect the iconic traits of the classic genres but challenges then as well. As the Lone Man De Bankolé is every bit as self-surviving as Lee Lee Marvin’s Walker in POINT BLANK or Clint Eastwood’s Joe in A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS, but as far as I know The Man with No Name never spent his time admiring the works of Antoni Tàpies and Juan Gris or doing daily Chinese martial art exercises. Jarmusch effectively plays with our expectations of the genre and by playing homage to films such Orson Welles’s LADY FROM SHANGHAI Jean-Luc Godard’s CONTEMPT with our knowledge of cinema as a whole as well.
Overall THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is a lot of post-modern fun with a fantastic center performance by Isaach De Bankolé, quote-worthy cameos by Hollywood’s coolest cats and absorbing cinematics and score. It might be slow, but it is definitely worth making the effort and seeing it through so you might also understand where the limits of control really end.