The Limits of Control

2010-06-04 16:29
The Limits of Control

What it's about:

An espresso-sipping, tailored suit-sporting lone assassin travels through Spain on a mysterious mission involving code words, matchboxes, diamonds and trysts with a cast of eccentric characters. 

What we thought:

We first get a peek of our leading protagonist, known only as 'The Lone Man' practising Tai Chi in an airport toilet before he hooks up with a pair of 'handlers' in a transit lounge who give him a code word: "You don’t speak Spanish, right?"

From this enigmatic start, the 'action' (if you can call it that) then follows our inscrutable assassin (he is, isn’t he?) on his travels between Madrid, Seville and rural Spain as he encounters a variety of symbolic characters including The Nude (Paz de la Huerta), Guitar (John Hurt), The Blonde (Tilda Swinton), The Mexican (Gael García Bernal) and The American (Bill Murray).

French-Ivorian actor Isaach De Bankolé delivers a quietly compelling performance in the role of the existential anti-hero. Whether he’s donning a succession of snappy tailored suits, exchanging red and green matchboxes with his co-conspirators, perusing the art galleries and architecture, or ritualistically ordering a pair of single espressos, he exudes a Zen-like cool.

Nowhere more so than in a marvellously surreal scene where a nude femme fatale waiting to seduce him in his apartment teases: "You don’t like guns, you don’t like mobiles, and you don’t like sex either?" after he’s disarmed her and destroyed her cell phone. "Not when I’m working," is the Lone Man’s laconic retort. His encounters with each character are similarly detached to the point of such disinterest. Quietly listening to them rhapsodise on about an assortment of topics that takes in bohemians, classic Hollywood movies and old Finnish films, he barely strings a syllable together.

Mainstream critics have been less than impressed by Jarmusch’s rejection of conventional dialogue, character and plot. Empire’s Andrew Male’s verdict was "Cool, handsome, self-assured... but, as the existentialists might say, what’s the bloody point?"

Um, how about art? By refusing to subject his audience to clichéd action movie tropes, with The Limits of Control Jarmusch is making a simple, yet fundamental point. He’s fed up with Hollywood treating viewers as passive couch potatoes happy to be sedated by special effects. He demands his viewers start actively thinking for themselves again.

He insists you make sense of his surrealist celluloid poem. Hell, he suggests as much in the opening credits which quote 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s "Le bateau ivre": "As I descend down impassable rivers, I no longer feel guided by the ferryman”. Yep, in case you’re wondering, you, the viewer are the silent lone assassin. Your mission: to train-spot the dots between The Lone Man, Forest Whitaker’s Ninja-hip-hop assassin in his own Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Alain Delon in Melville’s Le samouraï and Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s Point Blank (cue: the movie is actually billed as "A Point Blank production").

Okay, so this character study in the art of cinema is artily self-conscious. And yes, peppering references to the classic existentialist cinema of French New Wave directors like Michelangelo Antonioni (cf. The Passenger) and Jean Luc Godard (cf. Contempt), not to mention stylistic echoes of Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and even David Lynch may well be lost on all but the most ardent art house movie buff.

But as a celebration of the art of cinema itself, The Limits of Control remains an absorbing addition to Jarmusch’s own road movie continuum that includes Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995) and Broken Flowers (2005).

And in an age of lowest common denominator Hollywood blockbusters, his unapologetic exercise in artiness speaks volumes. "How did you get in here?" asks The American when the Lone Man mysteriously materialises in the corporate CEO’s bunker. "I used my imagination," he replies.

Art house buffs should love Jim Jarmusch’s latest metaphysical hit man homage to French New Wave. Everyone else is going to be bored stiff.

arthur 2010/06/05 10:16 PM
I saw this movie today...what a boring load of rubbish...and as for Myles Keylock telling us that if we don't get it...we are dumb...Myles, go play "psuedo intellectual" with some 8 year olds...hellooo!!!
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