"The Limits of Control," the latest film by Northeast Ohio's Jim Jarmusch, arrives on DVD today. After the jump, my review of the film when it appeared in theaters.
I can't say that I was ever bored by The Limits of Control, the latest film from writer-director Jim Jarmusch. He makes real movies, ones that make you watch closely, that draw your eye to different corners of the frame, that don't fall back on dialogue and exposition because that would take away from the pictures slowly unfolding across the screen.
But Jarmusch, who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, does make me restless. He tells his stories at his own, often deliberate pace. And while that creates a sense of tension that is agonizing in The Limits of Control, it also made me long repeatedly for the clarity of a more conventional and straightforward film.
Jarmusch does not feel the need to be a crowd-pleaser. He will go with an untidy ending, as was the case in his previous film, Broken Flowers. In The Limits of Control, he makes few concessions to explanation, sending the audience along with his characters and making you figure it out — if you can — as the movie goes along.
The Limits of Control sends us out with the Lone Man (Isaach De Bankol, recently seen on 24 as Ule Matobo, and a veteran of three previous Jarmusch movies). He is given an assignment by two other men, one that sends him across Spain, to a series of meetings with other people of mystery, to the exchange of objects, and eventually to the final job he has been given.
The journey is a slow one, with the Lone Man often spending time waiting for his next meeting, each of which includes a monologue — on film, or science, or art — by the person he is meeting. There is a woman who shows up in his room, naked, and stays with him, but the Lone Man has no interest in sex — not, at least, while he is working.
Much of Limits of Control is built like a puzzle, with many lines repeated in different contexts, with changing meanings. (Jarmusch took the film's title from a William S. Burroughs essay which, Jarmusch has said, ''is mostly about language as a control mechanism.'')
The director also has noted the influence of the Lee Marvin film Point Blank — later retooled for Mel Gibson as Payback — and De Bankol's performance is full of echoes of Marvin's laconic, terrifyingly focused character; at one point it even seems as if they have worn matching suits.
But Point Blank is still an action film, with more happening in its early minutes than The Limits of Control manages in its entire length. Jarmusch also has mentioned that director Michelangelo Antonioni ''looms large in my subconscious,'' and I saw a lot of Antonioni in The Limits of Control. Unfortunately, what I saw was what also drives me crazy in Antonioni, particularly the taking of a very slow road to a place that remains unclear.
As I said, The Limits of Control made me very restless. But also endlessly curious, and more than a little anxious, as the tension built. The movie has moments of great humor, and its revisiting of certain phrases makes us rethink their meaning. De Bankol says little but demands our attention with the authority and the subtle shifts in emotion in his face.
That doesn't feel like enough for me to want to sit through the movie again. But I can imagine lingering over frames of it, like the Lone Man studying museum paintings during one of his long waits for his next meeting. Jarmusch makes interesting pictures, even if the motion picture around them is less of a delight.