Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, The Limits of Control is the story of an assassin sent to Spain to find his target. Along the way, he meets various people who help him guide to the place he needed to go to find his target. The film isn’t just an assassin film but an ode to those films among many others as it continues with Jarmusch’s fascination with European cinema. Starring longtime Jarmusch regular Issach de Bankole along with Tilda Swinton, Gael Garcia Bernal, Hiam Abbass, John Hurt, Paz de la Huerta, Alex Descas, Youki Kudoh, Luis Tosar, Jean-Francois Stevenin, and Bill Murray. The Limits of Control is a stylish yet entrancing film from Jim Jarmusch.
The Lone Man (Issach de Bankole) is given specific instructions to go to Madrid where he’s to wait three days for a guide to give him more instructions. During his stay in Madrid, he meets a violinist (Luis Tosar), a nude woman (Paz de la Huerta), and a cowgirl (Tilda Swinton) who each give him instructions and such for his next journey. On a train trip to Seville, he meets a Japanese woman (Youki Kudoh) who gives him more incrustations as he waits for a man with a guitar (John Hurt) who tells him to go to Almeria. At Almeria, he meets a Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a driver (Hiam Abbass) who take him to his destination to meet his target (Bill Murray).
The film is about an assassin who goes to Spain where he’s to meet his target as he encounters various eccentrics throughout his journey. That’s pretty much it as Jim Jarmusch infuses various references to films, art, and music into some of the dialogue while a lot of it is just repeated. Many of which involves the wonders of the earth and such as each character talk about their own interests. Then there’s the Lone Man character who has a routine where he does Tai Chi, orders two cups of espressos, changes suits between locations, and exchange matchboxes with the people he meets. In the matchbox are pieces of paper with strange codes that he ends up eating.
The lack of a conventional script allows Jim Jarmusch to create a film that is very reminiscent to many of the cinematic style of the European filmmakers he love. Particularly the late Michelangelo Antonioni as there’s a few references to his film. Due to the lack of script, Jarmusch allows scenes to play out with little to no dialogue where the Lone Man often encounters various places and sometimes go to them every day in his journey. In the beginning of the film, he is given specific instructions of what he should do while the things he hears is something that he will eventually say when he meets his target.
Jarmusch’s direction also plays to an element of surrealism since the Lone Wolf is told to use his imagination for his journey. There, he encounters things where things could be real or not. It’s all about getting to the target where Jarmusch has scenes play out for long periods of time so it allows the Lone Man to soak in where he’s at. With a lot of still shots, wandering hand-held, and dolly shots to help complement the sense of style that Jarmusch goes for. It’s something that not everyone will get into as many will feel it’s extremely pretentious and will get people bored. It’s a film that is very minimalist in its presentation though it’s also something that people will feel is very tedious as Jarmusch creates a very engaging and stylish film that is more about the personal journey rather than the action.
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle does a magnificent job with the film‘s colorful cinematography as he adds a vibrant look to many of the locations set in Spain from the lush day and nighttime exteriors to the intimate settings for the interiors for all of the apartment scenes in the film. Editor Jay Rabinowitz, a longtime Jarmusch collaborator, does an excellent job with the editing as he creates a stylish array of cuts from jump-cuts, slow-motion, and half-frame speeds to help give the film some movement for a film that is elliptical in its pacing.
Production designer Eugenio Caballero does a fantastic job with the art direction in creating different set pieces and decorations for the apartment scenes along with village that the Lone Man stayed towards the end of the film. Costume designer Bina Daigeler does a wonderful job with the costumes in creating the different suits that the Lone Man wears along with the strange clothing that the people he meets wear including a transparent rain coat for the nude woman. Visual effects supervisor Eric J. Robertson does a great job with the visual effects in the film to play up the surrealism that the Lone Man encounters during his trip in Spain with psychedelic colors flashing around.
Sound editor Robert Hein does a superb job with the sound to capture the intimacy of the rooms the Lone Man is in along with the locations he encounters outside whether its quiet or chaotic. The film’s score is performed by the Japanese experimental rock band Boris. Boris’ score is largely ambient with elements of drone metal in a piece with the band Sunn O))). Other soundtrack pieces includes tracks from Bad Rabbit, Carmen Linares, Manuel el Sevillano, LCD Soundsystem, Earth with Bill Frisell, and the Black Angels as bits of flamenco is played during a scene in the film that breaks a bit of film’s esoteric tone.
The casting is definitely a highlight of the film as it features an array of wonderful small appearances from Alex Descas and Jean-Francois Stevenin as the men who tell the Lone Man his assignment, Luis Tosar as a man with a violin case, Hiam Abbass as a driver, Gael Garcia Bernal as the Mexican, John Hurt as the man with a guitar, Tilda Swinton as a blonde cowgirl, Youki Kudoh as the Japanese woman talking about molecules, Paz de la Huerta as the nude woman, and Bill Murray as the target. Many of these performances, as small as they are, all stand out in their unique way where they all provide some humor to the events that is happening.
Finally, there’s Issach de Bankole in a brilliant performance as the Lone Man. While it’s a very restrained role that has him just reacting and be still throughout while not saying very much. It’s a very compelling performance as de Bankole provides a sense of professionalism as a man who seems to be the best at what he does. Having two cups of espressos, no sex during the job, no cell phones, and always being focused is part of the film’s theme of control as it’s a truly sensational performance for the actor.
While it may not be at the top of many of the films Jim Jarmusch has done in the past. The Limits of Control is still an intriguing film from the always independent director who continually challenges the idea of minimalism in traditional narrative films. While fans of art films will enjoy it for its style as well as its ensemble cast, it’s a film that the average filmgoer will be annoyed and bored by because not much happens. Despite its arty approach, The Limits of Control is still a superb though challenging film from Jim Jarmusch.
Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Stranger Than Paradise - Down By Law - Mystery Train - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Coffee and Cigarettes - Broken Flowers - Only Lovers Left Alive - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch
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