Film reviews

The Limits of Control – Blu-ray Review

For fans of writer and director Jim Jarmusch, his 2009 spy thriller of sorts, The Limits of Control, surely reached or even exceeded their expectations of the filmmakers’ use of metaphors, art, mysterious characters and the underside of genre film-making. It might not be exactly accessible to a lot of film fans or the casual viewer, but it is certainly ambitious, alluring and somewhat gripping if you can understand or “get” Jarmusch’s unique and interesting vision.

The Limits of Control concerns a loner whose name we never learn (Isaac de Bankolé) who is instructed to make contact with other strangers in various locations around Spain. During each meeting he receives cryptic messages/codes which should direct him towards his goal. As the film progresses we learn more, but not a lot more, about the enigmatic loner as he goes on his journey, up until he reaches his destination. With a few interesting characters and situations along the way, will our hero, for want of a better word, complete his mission? But what is his mission anyway? And where did it even come from?

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Well, if you go into The Limits of Control expecting some sort of Bond/Bourne spy action thriller you will be very disappointed. The main character is almost the anti-Bond, if you like; he’s quiet but not really in a strong, silent type of quiet. He’s almost boring and we don’t really get to know him either, other than that he likes and practices Tai-chi and doesn’t mix work with sex. A potentially iconic meeting with beautiful femme-fatale Paz de la Huerta proves this, and this is a big hint about Jim Jarmusch’s work as a filmmaker.

He doesn’t do what is probably expected from most in a genre film. The main character isn’t some typical, heroic, wise-cracking spy who inevitably falls for the mysterious femme fatale who just happens to show up. If anything, this meeting is where Jarmusch shows that he enjoys the quieter moments in films, where nothing big or of great importance seems to happen. He explores those moments and it takes the viewer on a very different journey to the one they were expecting, as well as going against any of the usual tropes that genre films go for – in this case, the hitman/spy thriller.

Another case in point, pun intended, is a guitar case our main man gets given at one of his meet ups. A stereotype of films like these is that the case doesn’t have a guitar or an instrument of some kind inside. It’s either a gun or another weapon. Well not here. But Jarmusch does do an interesting spin on that stereotype which offers a nice touch. There are moments like this throughout The Limits of Control that show Jarmusch’s love of art and music and how affecting it can be, but again, goes against the norms of storytelling or plot. In fact, you could say there’s not much in the way of plot at all. It all seems to be about moments for Jim Jarmusch, the minor ones, and getting what you can from them. The – what should be climatic and exciting – final scene being another example of how Jarmusch’s films don’t do what’s expected of them.

If viewers are to take anything away from The Limits of Control, if it’s not the action-packed spy thriller they were expecting, is the beautiful and brilliant cinematography by Christopher Doyle. The shots in and around Spain, the aforementioned bedroom scene between the main man and the femme fatale, the Tai-chi sequences, all look well-crafted whether they last seconds or minutes. This is something that appears consistent in Jarmusch’s films and a highlight here, for sure. Along with that, there is an offbeat, absurdist humour throughout that offers a human element to the characters. Again, something that seems consistent in Jarmusch’s works and perhaps why he uses Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray regularly – they have a dry wit about them that works well with his writing.

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Whether The Limits of Control matches Jim Jarmusch’s other works is something worthy of debate and discussion with his fanbase. But those that have seen his more acclaimed works – Stranger than Paradise, Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Only Lovers Left Alive will know what to expect. Not always accessible and often slow, but also deep, offbeat, interesting, and always with a strong cast. The Limits of Control, and his other films such as his recent attempt at the zombie genre, The Dead Don’t Die, certainly won’t be for everyone but one thing is for sure: if there’s a word that sums up Jim Jarmusch and his films it’s ‘unique’.

Extras for this release include a very helpful video interview on The Limits of Control and Jim Jarmusch by Geoff Andrew; a video essay by author and critic Amy Simmons; a documentary on the making of the film; a featurette on the film’s locations; the trailer; and a reversible sleeve. Overall, another decent package for fans and newcomers alike.

The Limits of Control is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

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