"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Limits of Control

tn_limitsofcontrolIn Jim Jarmusch’s new one, Isaach De Bankolé plays a man (“Lone Man” according to the credits) on a mission. He meets some guys at an airport who give him a key and a box of matches and tell him to go to a certain cafe and wait for “the violin.”

So he flies there, checks into the hotel, goes to the cafe, waits around, nothing happens. Goes back to the hotel, stares at the ceiling until the next day, comes back, waits. He goes to the art museum, where he sees a painting of a violin. Is this the violin he’s supposed to be waiting for? Not sure. Goes and waits some more. Eventually a guy with a violin comes (SPOILER), talks to him, they trade boxes of matches. Inside his box is a scrap of paper with a code on it, which he reads and then eats.

Basically, the whole movie is him doing variations on this routine again and again, all of it nicely photographed in Spain by Christopher Doyle. He goes to different places and meets different people. At every cafe he orders two espressos in separate cups. Every contact says the same thing to him at first, then talks to him about some interest of theirs (movies, music, molecules). He doesn’t respond and usually doesn’t look like he’s listening. Then they give him the same kind of matchbox with the same kind of note in it which he always eats. In between he checks out some art such as paintings, music or dance.

mp_limitsofcontrolThe people he encounters are sometimes played by familiar actors like John Hurt or Gael García Bernal, always in funny getups with weird quirks. But you just get a little goofy conversation, they don’t really have a chance to get much of a character going. The most memorable is Tilda Swinton, because she wears a white wig, cowboy hat and goofy sunglasses and talks about movies in a way that describes the movie you’re watching (“Sometimes I like it in old films when people just sit and don’t say anything.”)

Actually I take it back, the most memorable is probaly an actress I was not familiar with, Paz de la Huerta, because she’s always trying to seduce him and never wears more than a transparent raincoat and glasses. Usually less. When he lays in bed staring at the ceiling she lays on top of him naked.

There are lots of shots of him driving around, but without music as catchy as in the scenes where GHOST DOG was driving around. Also you keep seeing him walking. He has some nice silk suits and a cool strut. Sometimes he carries a guitar case (he never plays the guitar) or a bag (with nothing in it). He does tai chi a bunch of times. The climax of the movie is when he does tai chi and then all the sudden he cracks his neck. And you think holy shit, he never cracked his neck before. I think we’re at the part where he’s gonna kick ass. (He kind of does. Not really.)

It’s like BROWN BUNNY without the blowjob.

I always remember that when I saw GHOST DOG the first time,the credits came up and a guy in the back yelled that he wanted his money back. That guy wouldn’t have even made it an hour into LIMITS OF CONTROL without being reduced to tears. It makes GHOST DOG look like IRON MAN or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or something. It’s very slow, very quiet, very repetitive, very little happens. None of the characters have names and the main character barely talks or changes expressions. Many scenes have no music, the ones that do are mostly hypnotic feedback drones.

I kind of liked it. But I was kind of disappointed. I’m not sure I really get it. The promotional materials say, “His journey, paradoxically both intently focused and dreamlike, takes him not only across Spain but also through his own consciousness.” Which I guess maybe means the things people talk to him about are the things going on in his consciousness? To tell you the truth I got no idea what that means. Or what the title means. Sorry.

My mistake was going in thinking of GHOST DOG. That movie is also quiet, meandering and meditative. It also explores lots of different goofy ideas in Jarmusch’s head and includes cryptic motifs that you can try to decode. But it has more of a build to it. All the different themes start to pile up on each other, and there is more of a plot. The mob comes after Ghost Dog, his retainer tries to tip him off, he tries to kill the guys he has to, there is a little bit of action. Not enough serious samurai/hitman movie to satisfy that one guy in the back of the theater, but it’s definitely there. Not in this one.

Jarmusch named the production company for this one PointBlank productions, and said the movie was inspired partly by POINT BLANK and by the Richard Stark books. But it’s the dreamy arthouse side of POINT BLANK and not the pulp fiction structure beneath. In some ways it could even be compared to MADE IN USA, Godard’s version of Stark’s The Jugger which I found annoying, self indulgent and dismissive of the book it was based on.

Without a strong narrative THE LIMITS OF CONTROL feels nothing like Richard Stark, but I can see what Jarmusch was referring to. “Lone Man” captures the side of Parker that has never been in any of the official movie adaptations: he is one hundred percent focused on the job and on self-preservation, he doesn’t care about anything else. He turns down sex and says he never has it while working, which comes directly from Parker. Parker doesn’t even like to make small talk with people except as a cynical psychological trick to get them to do what he wants and make a job go smoothly. I’m not sure Lone Man would even do that.

De Bankolé  is perfect for the role. His distinct jawbone and eyes are always interesting to look at, he looks good in the suits, he seems convincingly badass without ever doing anything or even carrying a gun. Until the end of the movie the only thing he kills is a cell phone. The scene where he cracks his neck and then starts air-punching is legitimately exciting, but I was kind of hoping that meant it would burst into a little bit of action like in an arty crime movie like GHOST DOG, THE LIMEY or some of the Takeshi Kitano movies. But that’s not what Jarmusch is going for this time around, I guess. “Lone Man” has been scoping out this heavily guarded fortress and you keep thinking “how the fuck is he gonna get in there?” but sorry, you don’t see how. (UNSPOILER – spoiling that something does not happen.) You don’t even see him running toward it and then cut away. You just see him looking at it and next thing you know he’s inside and at first I didn’t even realize he was inside, he was sitting in a room all the sudden so I thought he must’ve gave up and went back to the hotel.

If you saw this guy sitting outside the cafe drinking his two espressos, you would want to watch him. And if you were really ballsy or invisible maybe you would follow him around. And you would learn about as much as you do from the movie. With the movie you get to follow him into the fortress, the hotel room (where he does tai chi or stares) and the bathroom stall (where he does more tai chi and changes his suit). But mostly you just see him doing the same things over and sometimes encountering the same phrases or images.

There’s alot of talk about subjectivity in the movie, and at the end he stands looking at a painting covered in white cloth. So I guess the idea is that who the fuck knows what’s going on here, it’s up to the viewer. But if that’s all it’s suppoed about that’s kind of a bummer I think.

Maybe I need somebody to lead me by the hand a little more than I’d like to think I do, but I would’ve liked this alot better if it was all leading to something. Oh well.

I do think a few of you will love it, but most people would just shrug and then leave.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009 at 1:29 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “The Limits of Control”

  1. Sounds a lot like Last Days. I can dig movies like that once in a while, but I REALLY need to be in the right mood or it just bugs me.

  2. It sounds like he might be going for a THE PASSENGER vibe. BROKEN FLOWERS left me a little cold as well.

  3. I’m glad you said that about Broken Flowers Andy, I thought it was just me! Will still give this one a go for certain, but I think I’ve got a pretty good mental picture of this one.

  4. I hope “It’s like BROWN BUNNY without the blowjob.” ends up a review quote on the DVD Box.

  5. Jarmusch was already playing around with this style in BROKEN FLOWERS, GHOST DOG, and especially DEAD MAN, but it sounds like he’s figured out how to streamline things even further. Anyone a fan of those movies? How does LIMITS OF CONTROL measure up? I’m curious to see it myself, but I can’t justify dragging my girlfriend along so I’ll probably wait for DVD.

  6. This one blows

  7. It sounds like something I will like, but I am incredibly dissapointed after reading this write-up. I love ghost dog, and I like broken flowers better than most, but I feel Jarmusch sometimes loses the narrative in favor of creating a hypnotic feeling for the viewer. It worked great in Ghost Dog, because RZA was there to make the driving scenes some of the best in the movie. It still needed the action though. I’ll definately check this out. Its just too bad it doesn’t sound like it has more going for it.

  8. This is a bit of a tenuous link, but while we’re on the ‘lone man’ films, I was wondering if Vern or any of the folks on here had seen The Goddess of 1967, in which a Japanese man travels to Australia to buy the type of car Alain Delon drives in Le Samourai…only to find the owner dead, and ending up on a road trip across oz?

  9. I have not seen that but it sounds cool.

    Or, at the very least, I can relate to wanting to be like Alain Delon in “Le Samourai.”

  10. I saw this on opening night; I’m a Jarmusch fan and I work for someone tangentially related to the production. I’m still not really sure how I feel about it; my brother and I spent the entire subway ride home talking about the things we didn’t like about the film, which I feel is actually sort of a compliment. I certainly wouldn’t have spent very long talking about the things I didn’t like about Wolverine.
    Basically our final consensus is that Jarmusch was trying to do a really meditative movie but got sidetracked into a political thing that doesn’t really work. SPOILER Bill Murray plays the most cartoonish American Imperialist I’ve ever seen, and I sort of feel like if you are going to push a political position (one that I personally agree with) you probably shouldn’t reveal that you think of your political enemies as Rocky & Bullwinkle villains.
    It’s beautiful and well-made, but I still think it doesn’t work as a whole in the way that his other films have.

  11. I will see this , without a doubt . But , after reading Vern’s piece , I will probably wait for the DVD. I love Ghost Dog , but I’m not a big fan of Dead Man , and I agree , I’m all for cryptic meanings and nonlinear exposition , but yes Jarmusch loses the narrative , from time to time , of his own movies.

    Funny , I recently re-watched Ghost Dog in preparation for Limits of Control , and one of the actors is Henry Silva , to me the perfect physical mix between Jack Palance and Chevy Chase and one of the old school actors perfect for the role of Parker (now , for me , Parker IS Josh Brolin , especially in American Gangster).Since Jarmusch mentioned Point Blank and since I’m Italian , I’ve then re-watched an Italian trilogy of crime movies from Fernando di Leo : Caliber 9 (1972) , Manhunt (1972) and The Boss (1973) , collectively known as Milieu Trilogy.Three very violent movies full of guns and chases.In this trilogy Henry Silva played an enemy hitman in Manhunt and the hitman protagonist in The Boss ( yes , the villain in one movie and the protagonist in the next , like Undisputed but with different characters) and man he looks EXACTLY like I imagined Parker! Now , it seems my preparation for Limits of Control was mostly useless, but I had fun nonetheless!

  12. Looks like this is a movie I have to go see
    alone, my friends might not be patient enought
    for such movies. I love both Ghost Dog and
    Broken Flowers, and I think that the Brown
    Bunny was an interesting experience, so this
    movie might be alright for me.

  13. C.M.K., have you seen ALMOST HUMAN? It’s mostly Thomas Milans’ movie but Silva plays a cop. Good movie.

  14. Ah , Tomas Milian!!! He is a national hero over here , mostly for his roles of Nico Giraldi and “Monnezza” ( I don’t Know how to translate Monnezza , it’s a dialect word from Rome , maybe Trashcan). I’ve seen a lot of his movies with this two characters , and I will eventually see ALMOST HUMAN ( here in Italy “Milano odia: la polizia non può sparare”=Milano Hates : The Police can’t Shoot ) , but my favorite movie with Milian is “Squadra volante” ( 1974 , Emergency Squad in english ) . Here’s a chase scene from this movie :


    The legendary Gastone Moschin is the Marsigliese in that clip , and he is Ugo Piazza ,the protagonist, in Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9 here) ,the first movie in the Milieu Trilogy.Here’s the classic opening of Caliber 9 , a mix between Morricone an Jethro Tull by Italian band Osanna:


    Now , a movie with Milian and Silva ? I will surely track it down!

  15. Their are other things I guess, but Vern and C.M.K.s’ response to my post is why I love the internet. Thanks for the links man.

  16. I just got back from seeing LIMITS. I liked it a lot. Probably more than BROKEN FLOWERS though maybe not as much as some of his earlier stuff. If you don’t like DEAD MAN or Gus Van Sant’s recent “super boring” period you might want to avoid it. It reminded me a lot of INVISIBLE WAVES which Christopher Doyle also shot. It’s even more metaphoric than those movies though. Every character and every prop seems like they must represent something else. Good luck trying to figure out what that is.

    But if you like your films Jarmushy [sic] it’s definitely worth checking out. As Vern mentioned, it’s so minimalistic that when he cracks his neck you get kind of an adrenaline rush. If you are still awake by that point. I have to respect a filmmaker that can make a guy rotating his head around exciting. Though I do think it would have been sweet to see him take out an entire platoon of mercenaries with a guitar string. Not that kind of film though. And I actually like that they don’t show how he makes it into the compound. Especially when he’s asked how he got there and he says, “I used my imagination.” I get the feeling that is literally true. With all that talk about the subjective nature of reality I like the idea that in this movie reality really is subjective. He can just imagine he is in the compound and there he is.

  17. i resent that statement about the music not being up to caliber of Ghost Dog.
    but i’m a big fan of Boris and Earth.

  18. and it wasn’t nearly as hard to get through as Van Sant’s Last Days.

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