Jim Jarmusch, Pushing Style To Its 'Limits'

Isaach De Bankole i

The Silent Type: Isaach De Bankole plays the "Lone Man," an enigmatic figure who embarks on a series of mysterious encounters in Jim Jarmusch's thriller The Limits of Control. Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features hide caption

itoggle caption Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features
Isaach De Bankole

The Silent Type: Isaach De Bankole plays the "Lone Man," an enigmatic figure who embarks on a series of mysterious encounters in Jim Jarmusch's thriller The Limits of Control.

Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features

The Limits Of Control

  • Director: Jim Jarmusch
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

PG-13: Graphic nudity, language.

(Recommended)

The Lone Man meets the molecular scientist i

Strangers On A Train: The Lone Man meets with a pixie who's into molecular science (Youki Kudoh) during his mysterious jaunt through Spain. Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features hide caption

itoggle caption Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features
The Lone Man meets the molecular scientist

Strangers On A Train: The Lone Man meets with a pixie who's into molecular science (Youki Kudoh) during his mysterious jaunt through Spain.

Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features
Tilda Swinton i

Suicide Blonde? A cinephile femme fatale (played by Tilda Swinton) trades matches for diamonds with the Lone Man. Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features hide caption

itoggle caption Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features
Tilda Swinton

Suicide Blonde? A cinephile femme fatale (played by Tilda Swinton) trades matches for diamonds with the Lone Man.

Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features

The Limits of Control may well test the limits of your patience for deadpan hipster minimalism. In other words, the new movie by Jim Jarmusch is the ultimate Jim Jarmusch movie: hyper-self-conscious, bone-dry droll, achingly chic, shamelessly intellectual.

As if to warn off philistines, the film opens with a quotation from Rimbaud that sets the stage for the enigmatic voyage to follow. Indeed, the whole movie is a sustained pastiche of literary and cinematic references.

The title itself derives from a text by William S. Burroughs, and the main character, a self-contained loner on a mysterious errand (Isaach de Bankole as the Lone Man), has been modeled on two icons from the cinematic pantheon of stoicism: Lee Marvin's taciturn badass in the cult thriller Point Blank, and Alain Delon's stone-cold hit man in Jean Pierre Melville's minimalist classic Le Samourai.

You needn't know any of this to groove on Limit's brooding, hypnotic wavelength. Jarmusch subsumes his influences into his own inimitable style. The Limits of Control is instantly, utterly Jarmuschian, almost a reductio ad absurdum of his abiding concerns and stylistic tics.

As ever in a Jarmusch joint, there isn't a plot so much as a series of encounters. The Lone Man is embarked on a mission that takes him across Spain for a series of rendezvous with colorful, even cartoonish oddballs: Tilda Swinton as a femme fatale who muses on cinema; John Hurt as a sly old fox with ideas about bohemianism; Youki Kudoh, a pixie interested in molecular science; Gael Garcia Bernal as the "Mexican"; Bill Murray as the "American."

Each gives the Lone Man a box of matches containing a numerical code written on a scrap of paper that he memorizes, then swallows. He gives in exchange a matchbox containing diamonds. His contacts offer cryptic clues to the next stage of the game ("The Mexican will find you; he has the driver") or philosophical aphorisms ("Nothing is true; everything is imagined") — then vanish into the scenery as quickly as they appeared.

The arrival, and function, of these assorted figures give The Limits of Control a narrative shape but not, exactly, a narrative: the movie is less a thriller than a poem on the idea of a thriller. What the Lone Man is up to is never explained — his journey, step by step, is the meaning of the movie.

You might think of the film as a character study in which we learn next to nothing about the lead character. Bankole gives a magnificently poised, self-possessed performance that manages to utterly rivet attention while completely denying everything that might give insight into motivation, history, interior life.

He has no psychology, no emotion, no back story, scant dialogue. We know that he practices tai chi, favors dapper silk suits, always orders two espressos in separate cups and likes to visit museums to contemplate a single painting at a time. And yet he richly inhabits the movie, commanding its every frame with a powerful physical presence.

If Bankole registers with marvelously concrete energy, the movie itself gradually dissipates into greater and greater abstraction. The Limits of Control seems to test the very limits of representation, teasing us along with a story that isn't really a story, with characters who aren't really characters, with a movie hyper-aware of its own status as a movie. The payoff, in turn, is an electric awareness of watching a movie. The voyage in The Limits of Control is ultimately ours, a journey of the spectator engaged in the fathomless mystery of cinema itself. (Recommended)

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