Film Review: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009)

By Anthony Moretta

Writer and director Jim Jarmusch is a movie maker's movie maker. He makes what he wants, how he wants. His pictures range from the thoroughly entertaining (Down By LawGhost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) to the amusing (Coffee and Cigarettes, Dead ManBroken Flowers) to the eh (Mystery Train, Night on Earth).

The Limits of Control falls somewhere in the middle. Like all Jarmusch, there's a painted excellence in the absurd, off-the-rocker observational quality of the film. Plot is an afterthought. It's really loose stuff. A nameless assassin billed as The Lone Man, wonderfully played by Isaach De BankolĂ©, arrives in Spain and meets a succession of unrelated characters, each offering a new clue in helping him reach his target. This cryptic lot includes Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal. The code is "You don't speak Spanish, right?" and they use matchboxes to pass along information. The Lone Man moves from one spot to another, making temporary homes in new digs along the way, while indulging in art, guitars, meditation, city-staring and two cups of espresso, every time. With tidbits and train rides, he finally makes it to some cordoned-off hillside home in the country, where he offs a shady businessman (perfectly realized by Bill Murray in a deserted and vulgar cameo).

And that's that. The story. Built around frayed threads and cockeyed cronies. It's not that Jarmusch is incapable of telling a straightforward tale with heroes, villains, lovers and losers (as opposed to David Lynch's big-brained bag of donkey shit, Inland Empire). It's that he's just not interested. This is elemental. It's the underworld al fresco. The players seem to speak in tongues and float along concrete. Jarmusch is watching more than participating and the audience is meant to do the same. Incredible silence is interrupted by decibel dynamite. We skip beats with this traveling hitman. We don't react with The Lone Man inasmuch as we react to him. There's no real way to relate. If you don't run in assassin circles, why bother trying?

So, there's no need for carnage, although Murray's death scene is pretty cool. No action spooned into our faces. Instead, we tally the killer's guts by his restraint. His necessity for neatness and non-disturbance. His only uproar comes when he lays into a waiter for bringing a double-shot espresso instead of two separate cups. Crime business requires repetition, predictability and as the title says, "control." More than any other, it's about self-control. The Lone Man doesn't even fuck on the job. Instead, he suffers through a platonic lust affair with the Nude, played by Paz de la Huerta (and yes, she's naked the whole way). "Do you like my ass?" "Yes." Nothing left to be said.

All of this happens under Christopher Doyle's painfully gorgeous cinematography. Long depth of field and big focus. The camera doesn't bend our way. We look where we want to and sneak a peek at the nothingness enveloping the far reaches of frame. Light projects into spaces, pluming over every object in sight. The visuals are crisply defined, but almost nothing at eye level. Like Malick and Cassavetes before him, and Wes Anderson now. Never derivative nor too distant. Jarmush often hits the same whimsical notes as Anderson, but lacks his heart. He smears the dark like Cassavetes, but wouldn't dare drown under Malick's suffocating scope. Jarmusch is the maker of films in the way he pleases.


Anthony Moretta is from Brooklyn, NY and writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet. His writing has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online and will be featured in the upcoming anthology, Unfashioned Creatures. His independent film project, Travels, is currently in post-production and he's also developing an original comic book series.