‘The Limits of Control’: Jarmusch’s latest doesn’t build any momentum

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 7, 2009 2:14pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Once the vanguard of the youth movement in indie cinema, writer-director Jim Jarmusch is now 56 years old. But frankly, he seemed like an older man years ago.

Not only did his hair go snow-white at a young age, but for ages now — at least since 1995’s fascinating “Dead Man,” with Johnny Depp — Jarmusch has been working in the seasoned, contemplative mode of a wise old monk.

If a wise old monk can be hip, that is.

Movies such as “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” and “Broken Flowers” have followed lone protagonists along a kind of spiritual (if sometimes wacky) path toward enlightenment. Although “enlightenment” might be too grand a word for Jarmusch’s deadpan-funny style.

His new one, “The Limits of Control,” is absolutely in the same vein, though with differences. Here, we follow a taciturn mystery man (played by Isaach De Bankole), who appears to be on a spy mission as he travels through various parts of Spain.

He meets with a series of contacts, who apparently slip him important clues concerning his next destination. Or so it seems; plot information is at a minimum here.

These contacts include Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal. Paz De La Huerta plays the one recurring figure in this episodic trek, a young woman for whom clothing is optional.

Bill Murray, the star of “Broken Flowers,” also appears at a crucial moment late in the film. Like much of the movie, his exact status must be inferred, as no explicit explanation is forthcoming.

I don’t have a problem with that. But this movie, more than Jarmusch’s other films, does make it hard to find a reason to stick with its lone traveler as he moves across the landscape.

Nothing against Isaach De Bankole, the chiseled actor who recently popped up in “24,” amidst his many movie roles.

But Jarmusch treats him as a cool blank, and although the Spanish locations are picturesque (and Chris Doyle’s cinematography supple), the film really struggles to find the kind of momentum Jarmusch’s other movies create.

I like road movies, minimalism and nice pictures of Spain. But “The Limits of Control” (a title taken from a William S. Burroughs quotation) left me feeling like I was standing on the side of the road, waiting for the bus to come by. Based on his record, I’d still buy a ticket for Jarmusch’s next trip.

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