I watched a curious movie the other night that challenged my thinking as to the significance of modern film in my life. Too often I've see fast-action, over-the-top movies as thrillers meant to provide light entertainment going into the week-end. In otherwords, disengage one's mental faculties and let the movie think for you. Titled "Limits of Control", this film attempts to look at the genre of the Hollywood box office thriller in a new light. Nothing done in this production is according to the typical standards of a blockbuster hit that contains stunts galore, plenty of larger-than-life characters and predictabe endings. For a movie buff like myself, watching this kind of production that castes the thriller as a kind of parody is challenging and enlightening at the same time. For the space of a couple of hours, the director and filmmaker, Jarmusch, takes his audience through a rather short but elaborate journey of a crime syndicate hitman on his way to take out a local crime boss in of all places, backwater Spain. There is no flashing of heavy-duty firearms or high-speed chases or identifiable landmarks to grace this picture. Instead, the man moves stealthily about his business with an air of solemn or grim determination that is sufficiently disturbing to be compelling. By a system of simple coded messages, anonymously delivered in matchboxes to a table at a sidewalk cafe, the hitman relentlessly follows instruction in his pursuit of his invisible and quarry. The crowds are sparse; the setting a back-street cul-de-sac in some Spanish provincial town; the backdrop some beautiful snow-peaked mountains; the architecture old and unassuming; the pace about as slow as you could possibly get; and the time either early in the morning or late in the evening.Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Anyone looking for a conventional "thriller" from Jim Jarmusch is bound to be disappointed by this film, but those who were intrigued by "Dead Man" and "Ghost Dog" will probably see this as another step toward the mathematical limit he's been moving towards -- but can never quite reach, because the ultimate Jarmusch film would move inexorably and spontaneously into absolute and eternal stillness (which of course is doubly impossible for a motion picture), but with an offbeat soundtrack. (I might say that Jarmusch is the film equivalent of Morton Feldman in classical music, but only the rare few who have listened to Feldman would get the point.)
Anyway, this DVD offers more in the way of "making-of" extras than we usually get with a Jarmusch film, and this gives us considerable insight into his working methods. As for the film itself, it makes the most of Isaach De Bankolé, whom one of the other reviewers here aptly described as stone-faced -- and if any face deserves to be sculpted on film, it's this one. (One of the little pleasures of the extras is seeing him smile, which he never gets to do in the film.) Is he a zombie programmed for a meaningless mission or the epitome of heroically dedicated self-control? Jarmusch leaves that kind of question up to you. If you're looking for answers, or for excitement, you won't find them here. What you might find is a uniquely contemplative vision of motion itself, and of a world which makes about as much or as little sense as the one we walk through every day.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
transcendence of the egoFeb. 26 2010
Joel S. Schneider
- Published on Amazon.com
Okay, for all you who say this film is about nothing, I'd like to give you my take on it. Now, I'm not saying that Jarmusch consciously intended this as an interpretation - I have no way of knowing what he was thinking other than the images that he and Christopher Doyle put together. I do think, though, that the artist is often used by the unconscious to communicate what is very difficult to put in words. Here's what I got from this beautiful, mysterious work.
In the film, "The Limits of Control", the lead character, "The Lone Man", is an existenialist hero. He is both detached and disciplined and through his spontaneity and openness to "imagination" he is able to follow his intuition and slay the tyrannical ego, "the American", played by Bill Murray. In both the personal sense and a societal sense (as embodied by the giant corporation) the ego has become an instrument of control run amok - one that crushes the individual and all creativity (mankind's artistic, intuitive side)... he is the ultimate imperialist. The ego, in its overwhelming narcissism, is above all else fearful of its demise and loss of control. "The American" (the ego) creates a fortress, or citadel of defenses to keep out any perceived threats to his dominance and unnatural pretense of immortality. "The American" has literally surrounded himself in an armed fortress, overrunning with hired guards and a flawed sense of security - all to prop up his inflated self-worth. What this does is mask his basic vulnurability and fear of death. He places his toupee (or vanity) on the skull that sits on his desk of authority. He sees himself as the ultimate ruler and force of control - the fortress that keeps out the imagination (the Bohemians of the world) and all other things he can't dictate to - and most fundamentally, his own death. "The American's" arrogance and condescension is a mask to cover his fear of mortality. He wants to be separate from others, but in death he knows he faces his "invincible defeat" (as Leonard Cohen calls it) - in death he will be like everyone else and will be absorbed into the eternal flow of nature ("in the dirt").
The following is a description of Jean Paul Sartre's thinking regarding the "transcendence of the ego" which can be applied to "The Limits of Control":
According to Sartre, consciousness is unstable by its nature. The basic characteristic of consciousness is its dynamicity, spontaneity, and freedom. He believes in the principle of the intentionality of consciousness. Sartre states that all forms of consciousness are somehow intentional. Imagination and feelings need something to appear. They are the ways of relating to the world, and in this relation consists the intentionality. Spontaneity doesn't emanate from the ego, it directs to it. The main thesis of "the transcendence of the ego" states that "transcendental consciousness is an impersonal spontaneity". Sartre puts practical function of the ego above its theoretical function and he maintains that "perhaps the essential role of the ego is to mask from consciousness its very spontaneity". It affects not the ideal unity but the real instant unity of the moment. Therefore, our consciousness sometimes tends to accept the ego for the false representation of itself. All thanks to the ego, it's possible for us to make a distinction between the possible and the real, between appearance and being, between the willed and the undergone - as there is no such difference for the consciousness. Escaping the ego by consciousness, however, can sweep all the barriers and limits hiding consciousness from itself. Then consciousness is suddenly anguished by fear of itself, which is inherent to pure consciousness.
Beyond the limits of the ego - the limits of control - transcendence (death/art) is found in the realm of infinite imagination (where "there are no edges and no center"). In the ultimate state of transcendence, mankind is his own creator - he no longer is dictated to by some unseen authority from which he is separate - art and life become One. What comes to mind is the famous drawing by M.C. Escher that depicts the artist's hand drawing itself into existence.
Was that pretentious? Probably - so what. Go sue me if you like. This is my take on "The Limits of Control" but its just as valid to appreciate it simply for its beautiful imagery, landscape and color. Thats whats great about a work of art - it can mean a lot but it also can mean nothing. Its up to you - nothing is forbidden, everything is permissable.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Haunting neo-noirMay 5 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
The Limits of Control dir Jim Jarmusch 2009
5* Haunting neo-noir
I just saw a preview of this film last night, and ... wow. Very Jarmuschian, very Doyle'ish. Yes, legendary Wong Kar-Wai cinematographer Chris Doyle shot this, and it was an inspired fit. Visually, the film is beautiful as we tour Spain from the cities to the remote country, yet at the same time brooding and ominous.
Which was suitable, since the overall effect of this film is definitely noir. Mysterious goings on, presumably unlawful; suspenseful music; a morally ambiguous central character; the aforementioned brooding and ominous landscape; even a flamenco rehearsal reminiscent of the almost obligatory nightclub scenes in classic noir.
Structurally, the film is simple. A Lone Man (played with impeccable detachment by Isaach De Bankole') arrives in Madrid. He is contacted, given brief and cryptic instructions, and goes on to make the next contact. At each stage, he orders two espressos, "in separate cups", opens a matchbox to find a folded square of paper with a few numbers and letters on it (coordinates?), which he memorizes and destroys; he has some task such as "find the violin"; he hangs out for a while, always ordering two separate espressos, until he is contacted, given a pass phrase; has a few cryptic words and exchanges his matchbox for a new one, and sets off on the next phase. At each stage there is a small cast of sharply drawn characters, cameos really ... the flamenco performers; or a cafe waiter impatient with his habits; or the beautiful, naked, and seemingly very willing (though we're never sure just what game she's playing), young woman (Paz de la Huerta) who shows up in his hotel room. Few, if any, characters other than the Lone Man are here for more than a few minutes.
This structure seems like it should quickly get tedious, but instead the tension builds palpably. What, we wonder, is really going on, even as we are presented with a few clues. Why all the complex charades? Is this criminal, political, or...? Fortunately, we eventually do get to resolution of sorts, although a suitably ambiguous and head scratching one. I know I'm definitely looking forward to a chance to view this one again.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
The Limits of Visual NarrativeMay 9 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
"Limits" DOES tell a story. It has a plot, almost the same plot really as many films about assassination. An impassive, relentless,'professional' hit man is commissioned by a syndicate to kill a big shot of another syndicate. The 'hit' requires him to make contact witha series of strangers who present him with crucial info, presumably about the location of his target. The strangers are bizarre. The mission proceeds to its climax, as it has been obvious that it would from the first scene.
However, there's no explication. No context. We have no idea who wants whom killed, or for what reason, and we never learn. Likewise, we have no reason to care, no favorites as it were, no complicating empathy for the killer or sympathy for his target. The whole verbal script for this film could be typed on a single flash card, and if its insistent repetitions were deleted, half the flash card would be blank. There is nothing in this film to engage the viewer's involvement. It's a pure ballet of cinematography, a narrative as abstract as a painting by Mondrian.
In other words, it's a tour de force by director Jim Jarmusch, a manifestation of his "limits" of cinematic control. An experiment in which the viewer is the arbiter of success, as of course the viewer must be. If it works for you, it works. Period. I rather suspect that the vast majority of viewers will denounce this film as boring beyond belief, and for them, it surely is. I stayed the course, as cold-bloodedly as the killer did. I've given MYSELF five stars for perseverance in the quest for artistry.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
One of the Most Overlooked Films of Its TimeMarch 15 2011
Gregory William Locke
- Published on Amazon.com
Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control is one of the rare pieces of cinema that I consider to be fine art. Straight-faced, I'll call it a masterpiece. Not just because of Jarmusch's solid direction, the well placed cameos (read end of review for spoiler theory about the film's best cameo) and endlessly interesting location choices. Not just because of the epic/drone-y guitars (played by both Boris and Jarmusch himself) and Christopher Doyle cinematography, but, most importantly, because of the holes and hints and clues in the story we see unfold.
You can - nay, must - make up your own version of what's going on every time you watch The Limits of Control. I'm guessing that this is the reason why American critics, for the most part, hated this film. These are people who - more than in any other country - are paid to go into a theater ready to quickly judge art - it's their job. They research and think ahead, knowing that they're responsible for insightful ideas and opinions as soon as the credits roll. They must work quick, which is, in my opinion, no way to judge true art.
Most critics who last have found a way to play the game in a way that works. That said, some movies demand more; The Limits of Control is one of them. For this, Jarmusch's tenth - and most beautifully photographed - film, you have to sit back and take in the atmospheres, visuals, mood and tone. You have to live with it for a week. You can follow a story and hope for resolution, but that approach will offer little-to-no satisfaction. Pay attention to the many clues and hints, but don't expect them to ever makes the sense your practical reasoning needs them to make. For this story, Jarmusch wants you to fill in the blanks yourself. The ending is anticlimactic but interesting - our protagonist puts on a jumpsuit in a public bathroom then walks out the door. We hear a helicopter flying for no reason we understand. The acting is subtle yet effective, making small moments like this feel important.
Mostly, though, Limits is all about three key things: 1) location, location, location; 2) visual composition; 3) details and mystery. It's not about good guys and bad guys or lost love or laughs. Christopher Doyle shoots each frame as if he's trying to win a photography contest. His work here, as it is every few pictures, is fine art. Fine art made possible by how strong - yet subtle - all the locations are. Doyle makes every doorway, staircase, train and skyline look so perfect.
As for the story, well ... Isaach De Bankole, who you may recognize from Ghost Dog, plays our protagonist, Lone Man. Lone Man goes from place to place, having the same conversation with a different stranger each time. Each stranger gives him a clue of some sort, helping LM along his way. Bankole does yoga, denies women's sexual advances, lets his strangers ramble in his ear, doesn't like guns, wears a shiny suit and rarely talks.
He always orders two espressos, which I think may be the method by which he identifies himself to his contacts - just one of the many clues we're left to interpret on our own. He meets a number of strangers along the way, including Blonde (Tilda Swinton), Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal), Nude (Paz de la Huerta), Guitar (John Hurt), Molecules (Youki Kudoh, who you might remember from Jarmusch's Mystery Train) and many others. He finds a diamond in his espresso and always seems two steps ahead of everyone else. With each meeting he's given a coded clue, which he handles with cold precision, eating each clue after memorizing it. In the end, Lone Man finds himself outside a heavily guarded secret complex in the middle of nowhere. He studies a map of the complex from afar, burns it and walks off into the desert. The scenes that follow (ie. the third act) are understated and beautiful - Jarmusch couldn't have found a better ending for his highly poetic, mystery-filled thriller.
Also interesting: through the film Jarmusch makes a number of nods to his past work. When Bankole (who here plays pretty much the opposite of his lively character in Ghost Dog) meets Molecules on a train, we're instantly reminded of Mystery Train, which a nearly identical series of shots take place. But here, with the help of Doyle, the scene is far more beautiful. So beautiful that I caught myself pausing the player to gaze at the composition. I did the same when Lone Man finds his final clue in the band of a dead women laying in his bed.
While I can't for certain deduce why both critics and fans seemed to overlook Limits, I would like to offer a theory. Following the success of Broken Flowers, which starred Bill Murray (hot off his Lost in Translation and The Life Aquatic buzz), Jarmusch's place in cinema changed. For the first 28 years of his storied career he'd been an auteur to watch, study and learn from. He was a mystery so much so that no one ever knew what to expect from him. Along with the heightened profile that both Broken Flowers and Coffee and Cigarettes gave him, Jarmusch was, for the first time, met with expectations. Knowing how smart the man is (not to mention how well he knows his trade), one would have to think that he'd consider this.
So, to me, the fact that Jarmusch made such an uncompromising film regardless of the heavy burden of critical expectations should be celebrated. And I'd bet that, someday, when critics are going back over the man's filmography, it will be.
And, for the most part, that's the end of my review. But I do feel it necessary to give my theory on what the film is about. So don't read any further unless you've either seen the film or don't mind having some of the fun spoiled.
My Theory (Spoiler Alert!): Lone Man is a highly regarded, incredibly secretive hitman hired by someone to take out a heavily guarded man who is also a formerly high ranking politician from the United States. Through a number of clues - and by meeting a long series of very abstractly speaking informants - Lone Man finds the politician's hideout - a bunker in the middle of nowhere in an unidentified country. Lone Man makes his way into the former politician's top secret room (soundproof, natch) and waits for him there. Once the man shows up, Lone Man calmly kills him without anyone hearing a peep, then goes to a museum and sits in front of a strange piece of art that is meant to represent cleansing and clarity. It's beautiful.
Who plays the ex-politician? Bill Murray, of course. Who do I think the ex-politican is supposed to be? Dick Cheney, of course. Not just because the way they style Murray, but because of his temper and mannerisms. And the title, too, seems to make sense. Also, didn't Dick Cheney really buy some land in some far off country and build a heavily guarded hideout? That's what I heard. And, again, this is my version of Jim Jarmusch's movie.
So, if you're the kind of person who needs a set story and can't find one of your own, feel free to borrow mine. But, for the record, I like how ambiguous Jarmusch keeps the details.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Jim Jarmusch should have been persuaded to make the X-Men moviesJuly 1 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
The filmmaker's skill and the leading man's presence managed to hold my attention for more than an hour. This movie is mainly the camera resting on the leading man's face and sometimes hands. Other times, the camera is used judiciously and well to move the plot forward. There is not one false move on the part of the camera. So many times, I feel my head explode when I see poor use of camera angles - sometimes lazy, often stupid and mostly tasteless. Not here. I remember enjoying Stranger than Paradise but this is the movie that impresses me that this director's uniquely talented but also important in the business of movies - highly skilled and well trained choices means he can make great movies - that his contribution to a vehicle will improve that movie. Take him out of the arthouse genre and give him something big to do. There was a big problem in editing of Southland Tales which was filled with a plethora of delights that it cancelled itself out in front of the audience. This director can do a lot. Visually, this movie turns the leading man into black masculinity as eye candy. The story is something else entirely and it uses delightful seasoned character actors to deliver the message and that is very arthouse but it is storytelling for grownups who want to spend an hour or so in the creative lap of an artistic mind. Decide for yourself and have fun doing it. This is old school early 90's style artsy fun at the movies.