The Limits of Control 

The Wrong Silent Type: Jarmusch is self-aware. But why has he made this movie?

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The main character in Jim Jarmusch’s quiet, almost action-free The Limits of Control is not given a name, but, since he is played by Isaach De Bankole, let’s call him Isaach.

Isaach is an assassin who receives encoded messages written on slips of paper. He travels to Spain, where he spends his days drinking espressos at cafés and occasionally meeting with contacts who exchange more codes with him. Sometimes they try to engage him in conversation, but Isaach always demurs.

He barely says a word in the entire film. Though the movie is 116 minutes long, its actual story could be conveyed in five. Isaach goes to Spain to complete a particular mission; he completes this mission with no impediments whatsoever; the end. We do not know who the subject of the mission is, or why this subject has been chosen. The five-minute story is stretched out through repetition: Isaach keeps going to the same cafe, keeps doing tai chi in his hotel room every morning, keeps passing the same museum, and so forth.

At one point Tilda Swinton’s character, trying to chat with Isaach, says, “Sometimes I like films where people just sit there, not saying anything.”

Obviously, Jarmusch is self-aware. But why has he made this movie? When a film is languid and nearly plot-free, there is usually a reason for it, its themes being reinforced by the manner in which the story is told. In The Limits of Control, it’s hard to identify any themes at all, much less ones that are served by reducing the story to almost nothing.

Jarmusch appears to be experimenting with the espionage genre. Flicks about hit men are usually plot-heavy; this one, meanwhile, is quite the opposite. Yet it is not character-centered, either. It is a film full of nothing. Why is anyone supposed to watch it? To find mirth in Jarmusch’s deconstruction of the genre? Good for them if they do. I didn’t.


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Isaach De Bankole, Tilda Swinton, Alex Descas
Rated R

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