The Limits of Control

I will not defend The Limits of Control to anybody. In fact, I predict that many will find the film insufferably pretentious and boring - and that includes fans of Jim Jarmusch.

The director once claimed that he makes movies that are about the time that passes between moments, rather than about the moments themselves. This is especially true of this deliberately paced anti-thriller about a mysterious professional (Ivory Coast actor - and frequent Jarmusch collaborator - Isaach de Bankolé) who is sent to Spain and spends several days waiting around, receiving vague instructions, then waiting around again.

Although Jarmusch has outgrown the extremely long takes that first defined his style, he still loves silence and stillness. Cinematography by the legendary Christopher Doyle and a sludgy, psychedelic soundtrack by Japanese band Boris give the silence and stillness a sort of personality. Meanwhile, a number of familiar actors show up in brief cameos, in which they speak abstractly about art, science, music and the like, before giving de Bankole a coded message which he promptly eats.

All this repetition and ennui does eventually lead somewhere, though the payoff may not be worth it to some. (In fact, many might find the only redeeming aspect of this film to be actress/model Paz de la Huerta, who appears completely nude except for a pair of glasses.) Did I like it? Well, I liked it enough.

Jarmusch's best films have a tendency to haunt me for years, and if The Limits of Control doesn't measure up to Ghost Dog or Dead Man, this might only be due to its dated message. Without giving too much away, the film's plot finally makes sense once Bill Murray pops up. The character he plays and the things he says provide the meaning to the film's elaborate puzzle, as well as to its very title. That said, it may all amount to nothing more than Jarmusch's anger at Bush-era American imperialism. This would have been a strong stance to take in 2003, but it loses some impact today, now that Bush and his ruinous policies already feel like distant, ugly memories.