Saturday, December 12, 2009

Film Review: THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (2009, Jim Jarmusch)

Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Isaach De Bankolé, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Paz de la Huerta, Gael García Bernal, Bill Murray. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle.
Tag-line: "For every way in, there is another way out."
Best one-liner: "The Sufi say each one of us is a planet spinning in ecstasy. But I say each one of us is a set of shifting molecules, spinning in ecstasy."

Jim Jarmusch is a master filmmaker. I love his deadpan humor, his visual style, his strange, earnest slapstick. But THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is not a good movie. I feel as if I can speak with authority because I've made the same mistake: You're on vacation with friends who happen to be actors and you happen to have your camera, so you start shooting. “God, it looks great! I'll write a scene or two as I go along. Here, stand in front of this neat building and brood.” Next thing you know- BAM- you've got a movie, right? Not really. This has the trappings of a cool 60's Eurocrime film, but that's all it's got.

Christopher Doyle's visuals are crisply elegant- deep blues, fiery reds, beautiful countryside, and angled modern architecture.


Isaach De Bankolé is a man on a mission. He always orders two espressos in separate cups.

He exchanges matchbooks and cryptic, quasi-existential banter with brilliant actors who were probably just in the neighborhood that day and Jim was like 'Hey, you want to do a scene?'

It’s punctuated by Isaach staring at the cityscape, doing tai chi, and visiting museums. The scenes of Isaach gazing at artwork just make you wish you were watching Bronson in THE MECHANIC, where scenes of him scrutinizing Bosch were bookended by that rare beast called a 'narrative.'

In DOWN BY LAW, Jim's coup was to not show the specifics of the jailbreak- we have characters in prison, then they're on the lam. The movie is about the characters, not the tunneling, the subterfuge, the act of breaking out. But here, there's not even character- there's empty words, blank stares, an issue of Italian Vogue come to life- a parody (?) of an art film. Jim realizes this and he accordingly ups the T&A ante, but, sorry, no sale.

There's a lot of name-dropping, too- names like Welles, Kaurismäki, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock. Yup, we know those names. Yeah, I've seen STALKER. We're both pretty smart for knowing those names and having seen STALKER, don't you think? For those who say it’s a blank slate meant to be read through the critical lens of your choice, I say it's better if viewed as the live-action version of CARMEN SANDIEGO, with Tilda Swinton as Carmen,

Bill Murray as The Chief,

Is Bill Murray working for ACME or V.I.L.E.?

and John Hurt as Baron Grinnit.

John Hurt answers some questions regarding his theft of the Sphinx. Click on the pic for a larger view.


I’d have to be drunker than Chris Doyle to recommend this. Two stars.

-Sean Gill

4 comments:

Jason said...

Holy shit- the Sandiego stuff. Great review, as always!

J.D. said...

That's a damn shame. Love Jarmusch's work (DEAD MAN is his masterpiece) but this one doesn't sound that good. I've been holding off checking this out so maybe I'll wait for the Sundance Channel to air it.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, to put things in perspective, I've seen every single Jarmusch film, and the only two I would give the "didn't like it" distinction to are this and PERMANENT VACATION. And PERMANENT VACATION even gets higher marks for acting as a document of post-Apocalyptic-style early 80's Lower Manhattan. I'd also go as far as to call DEAD MAN, STRANGER THAN PARADISE, DOWN BY LAW, and even GHOST DOG masterpieces. So, I guess you could say my disappointment with this was amplified even further.

J.D. said...

Wow. Yeah, we are in total agreement on Jarmusch's masterpieces and duds. PERMANENT VACATION does nothing for me. An interesting curio and that's it. DOWN BY LAW is the tits and GHOST DOG has a wicked soundtrack. There's an awesome Japanese import that has more of killer instrumental cues - a must-buy if yer a fan of this film.