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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.42%
Worth A Look: 18.42%
Average: 15.79%
Pretty Bad: 15.79%
Total Crap31.58%

6 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Limits of Control, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Please Return to the Land of the Living, Jim"
1 stars

If you're out of Secondal and need a viable alternative, look no further.

Famed art-house writer/director Jim Jarmusch has hit absolute rock-bottom with his latest, The Limits of Control. What's ultimately infuriating isn't that it's torturous to sit through, but that Jarmusch is a technically accomplished filmmaker who could benefit the world of cinema if he'd try directing someone else's scripts rather than the half-baked ones he's been churning out this last decade. The title is quite appropriate in that the screenplay is limited and the execution of it too formally controlled to bring anything out of it -- the Director is so in love with the Writer that he's lost the objectivity to spot and iron out the numerous flaws in the blue plan. Jarmusch made his feature-film debut with the excellent 1984 Stranger Than Paradise, which was the very definition of minimalism -- all of the scenes were one-shot takes without the camera ever moving or changing in angle -- and the reason it was successful was because the characters and dialogue were good, and there were some sly observations of lower-middle-class Americana. From there he contributed some other pictures that were just as eclectic but not particularly engaging, because it became clearer and clearer that they were more about manner than matter: you found yourself striving to stay involved with far more effort than Jarmusch spent trying to keep you engaged. But in 1996 he blessed us with the masterpiece Dead Man, an extraordinary B/W Western that boasted many attributes, along with a weirdly-sustained narrative rhythm that you were either susceptible to or not. With The Limits of Control Jarmusch tries superimposing his nth-level minimalism onto a crime story, and if there's any genre not begging for this kind of treatment, it's this one. In his previous film, Broken Flowers, he had his lead character remain reticent throughout and the supporting characters reactive; here, he's done the same thing, with the lead character a reticent professional hit man who travels to different countries, sits outside at cafe patios ordering two single orders of espresso in two different cups (we're supposed to find amusing his insistence on the two-separate-cup thing; eccentricity, ya know), and meets with a shady character who exchanges matchbooks with him that contain a small slip of paper with an encrypted message, which he proceeds to put in his mouth and swallow with a sip of espresso after memorizing. This same routine is repeated and repeated and repeated, and, against all hope, we assume it's going to eventually end with some kind of witty payoff that will justify the meandering means. Nope.

In a dire, desperate attempt to add variety to the unvaried, Jarmusch throws in a female operative for the hit man, who shows up unannounced in his various hotel rooms in the complete buff: she continually offers herself to him, he continually refuses, and the two spend plutonic nights in bed -- and above the covers, of course, so the woman's nudity can remain on-screen. (Jarmusch also threw out unmotivated full-frontal female nudity in Flowers, and here it confirms a distasteful misogyny.) I'd say it's quite easy to lose track of the crime plot in The Limits of Control, but that would be to confirm that there is one, and there's not. I'd also say that there's a "final confrontation," but that would mean there were previous confrontations, and there aren't. Eventually the hit man breaks into a highly guarded compound to take out his target (we never see how he manages this; by not showing the process, Jarmusch intends for us to assume this dude's good!), and because we've been spoiled by the unforgettable violent conclusion of Cronenberg's A History of Violence, we'd like to think Jarmusch has a few tricks up his sleeve. But, like the rest of the film, it gives us the bare minimum in the artily asinine belief that by merely serving up the opposite of what we've come to expect, that what we're witnessing is Art -- that to merely attempt it is to automatically achieve it. Jarmusch is so proud of the film not having a point that he fails to comprehend that such a cinematic endeavor devoid of nuance and observation is, essentially, pointless; he wants us looking into the backgrounds and at the cast of extras to see if there are any visual clues to pick up on, and then wants us finally wowed that there never were any. He's giving as an anti-crime-genre picture without replacing expected ingredients with anything fresh, and by the thirty-minute mark we're already exhausted by the deadening temerity of it all. Yet, I'm afraid -- and this is certainly something to be afraid of in a once-influential filmmaker who can still secure financing for his empty-headed projects -- Jarmusch would justify all this with, "Well, the nothingness is all intended." Execrable. The cinematography is all poster colors, the editing undistinguished, the production design no great shakes, and the location shooting travelogue-dull. The only plus is the interesting screen presence of IIsaach de Bankolé as the hit man. True, he's been directed to be devoid of personality; truer still, he manages to convince us not of the character but of his capability of playing a better character in a better film. Say, a stereotypical loudmouth captain in the next Police Academy sequel?

Return to sender.

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originally posted: 04/12/12 10:24:04
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User Comments

10/24/13 Rupen Adamian Great ! ! What a wonderful ficture. 5 stars
10/18/10 millersxing non-linear Jarmuschian mind-bender. tension is ever-present, it's unsettling and strange. 4 stars
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  01-May-2009 (R)
  DVD: 17-Nov-2009


  DVD: 17-Nov-2009

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