The Limits of Control
Running time 116 minutes
Written and DIRECTED BY Jim Jarmusch
Starring Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt
As bad movies go, a nightmare called The Limits of Control can’t go fast enough to suit me. This is an empty, boring sedative by Jim Jarmusch, a writer-director with not enough talent to be either. He’s been getting away with murder for years, serving scraps of gibberish like Ghost Dog, Dead Man and Mystery Train that nobody except the fools who finance them actually sees.
A mysterious black man with a briefcase (Isaach De Bankolé) glides across the Spanish landscape without a compass in a dead narrative that resembles a canoe without a paddle. To demonstrate the kind of deadly, narcoleptic pacing Mr. Jarmusch enjoys, the man travels from the airport to his hotel. You see all the blurry scenery along the way through the windows of the car. Upon arrival, you see his finger press the elevator button. You watch him stroll catatonically down the corridor, insert his key in the door of the room. Then you endure the rain falling on the street below, like a wartime torture inflicted by an enemy nation that ignores the rules of the Geneva Convention. A man carrying a violin gives him a matchbox containing a secret note, which he swallows with an espresso.
Tilda Swinton appears in a cafe sipping another espresso, wearing a white wig and white cowboy hat, babbling incoherently about bad films like The Lady From Shanghai, which obviously shaped Mr. Jarmusch’s cinematic sensibility. The mystery man remains mute. She confesses it was a “film that makes no sense.” Like this one. He eats another note. On a train, he meets a Japanese woman who says each one of us is a set of molecules, spinning in ecstasy. In another town, in another cafe, a ragged bum (John Hurt) arrives with another matchbox, carrying a violin. Each matchbox contains another secret note, which the man chews and washes down with yet another espresso. In a hotel, a gun-wielding woman played by Paz De La Huerta strips naked and climbs into the man’s bed. He remains silent, fully clothed and staring at the ceiling, registering no emotion even when the woman aims the gun at his head. At this point, I understood his catatonia completely. I was catatonic myself. But there are more trains, more cafes, more notes, more espresso. Droves of people were walking out, but duty demanded that I stick around and find out what was going on, what was in the notes, and if the man had a missing tongue.
O.K., I’ll bite. Is it surrealism? Existentialism? An avant-garde throwback to the experimental films of Stan Brakhage? How about plain old pretentiousness? The Limits of Control stinks of it. Filled with asinine observations like “Reality is arbitrary, everything is imagined, there is no such thing as reality” and “A reflection is more interesting than the thing that is being reflected,” it’s a non-film filled with a bland, blank-faced emptiness that desperately needs to be parsed with some flash and vigor. Not to mention insight. At no time are we given the faintest glimpse of what anyone is up to. By the time Bill Murray shows up to deliver less than a dozen lines and get shot to death, we don’t even know why. We are, however, grateful he doesn’t drink espresso.
Pure, undiluted crap, this is the worst movie since Synecdoche, New York.