The Limits of Control is a Jim Jarmusch film, one of his lesser efforts surely but also one of his most boldly ambitious films in certain ways. He’s not a director who’s known for being particularly ambitious, so that’s interesting. It’s kind of a reverse Ghost Dog, and it also has a hitman as the main character, Lone Man, played by Isaach de Bankolé. It was not well-received critically, which is unusual for Jarmusch. That’s kind of understandable—his films usually move at a leisurely pace but are not “slow,” however, this one is decidedly slower
Lone Man is a solitary hit man type, and the story and dialogue are a bit cryptic. There just isn’t that much there, and the inaccessible dialogue doesn’t help. That is a difference from some of Jarmusch’s other films as well. There’s a strong buildup, but it’s only followed by an anti-climax, and it doesn’t hang together in a satisfying way.
That said, it’s got a great cast, including Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Gael García Bernal and John Hurt. It’s kind of a mishmash of the sensibilities French directors Jack Rivette and Jean-Pierre Melville, an interesting concept, but you have to be in the right mindset to watch it. For that reason, it’s a film I put off watching for a long time.
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, best known for his work with Wong Kar-wai, is definitely one of the best. It’s shot on fantastic locations in Madrid, Seville and so on, so it would be hard not to get good shots, and of course Doyle does. This is his only collaboration with Jarmusch—I don’t know why that was—as Jarmusch usually works with Frederick Elmes, who also worked on a bunch of David Lynch’s early films.
The Limits of Control is the kind of movie that will probably grow on you after repeat viewings. It definitely creates an interesting atmosphere, which is one of the director’s trademarks. There is almost always something there worth checking out in a Jarmusch film, and this is no exception.
It’s surprising how strongly Jarmusch came back after the somewhat disastrous response to the release of this film with Only Lovers Left Alive and Paterson, which were his follow-ups to The Limits of Control.
The release includes a video interview with Geoff Andrew, who wrote the book Stranger Than Paradise: Maverick Film-Makers in Recent American Cinema, plus a video essay on the film by critic and author Amy Simmons and the theatrical trailer. Archival material includes a featurette on the film’s locations, Untitled Landscapes, and a making-of documentary, Behind Jim Jarmusch.