Stranger Than Spycraft: Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control


“No guns, no mobiles, no sex. How can you stand it?”

This is the question asked by a very naked, very attractive Paz De La Huerta as she lies in bed pointing a gun at “Lone Man” (Isaach De Bankole).

(For context, the previous question she asked him was, “Do you like my ass?”, his reply: “Yes.”)

His reply to this question is given in a cut to him lying awake, fully clothed, while the fully naked Ms. De La Huerta lies next.

And thus the bed is made, literally or figuratively, for Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control,” a crafty satire so on edge you might just miss the comedy of it all.

The story–if there is much of one–follows Lone Man as he weaves his way through provincial Spain, discovering various characters (i.e: an umbrella-toting Tilda Swinton) and also includes a lot of match-boxes and something about diamonds somewhere and a conspiracy.

Knowing Mr. Jarmusch, you might also suspect the presence of both coffee and cigarettes, and be sated, for they are in the film in profusion.

And even though, as I said, there’s something of a conspiracy afoot (involving diamonds, remember?) and maybe some existential philosophy, what we really do for most of the movie is see what Lone Man is seeing and then stare, shot after shot, into his face.

This would be a more onerous task if Mr. De Bankole did not have such an interesting face. Indeed, Mr. Jarmusch (after pronouncing me a “lowlife”) claimed that the movie was written for him and that it would not exist without him. And Mr. De Bankole is indeed an actor of some great talent, as can be seen clearly in Lars Von Trier’s “Manderlay”, though American audiences may know him better from “24.” We hold on Lone Man in many shots of doing Tai Chi, of staring at a matchbox, of memorizing directions on small pieces of paper and then eating them (I was glad I had popcorn). It holds together because Mr. De Bankole is facinating in his motions, in the interesting lop-sidedness and angularity of his body (something mirrored somewhat by Ms. De La Huerta).

But didn’t I mention in the beginning that this was a satire? Indeed it is, though it might take you a while to catch on. What we are seeing here, is the inverse of Bond movie, round in all the places those films are sharp and vice-versa. Rather the frenetic pacing of a film like Casino Royale (which Mr. De Bankole was also in), we are given a lot of time with nothing at all. Rather than a bunch of high-tech gadgetry, we are given a spy who hates mobile phones. Rather than a polished, British-ized, anesthetized hero, we are given the distinct-looking Lone Man. Our arch-villain–none other than Bill Murray–tries to spout a bunch of nonsense about changing the world, where previously he was calling for a latte. Our hero’s greeting phrase for god-sakes is an acknowledgment that he can’t speak Spanish. What kind of International Man of Mystery is this?

Perhaps the most sublime moment of comedy comes from Ms. De La Huerta who greets Lone Man wearing nothing through a see-through plastic vest.

“Do you like my new raincoat?” she asks.

I guess that’s no more blunt than naming someone “Pussy Galore.”

Mr. Jarmusch has experimented with genre before, with the hip-hop/samurai-tale “Ghost Dog” and the concert film “Year of the Horse”, but here he tries a spin at comedy with sleek syle and gets somewhere, I think.

I discussed it with friends later.

“Well, it’s kind of like, you know Scary Movie and Epic Movie and all that stuff? Well, it’s kind of like if someone hired Jim Jarmusch to make Spy Movie.”

“But in a good way.”

“Yeah, in a good way.”


-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

“The Limits of Control” plays on Thursday April 30th at the Walter Reade with a Conversation with Jim Jarmusch to follow, part of FSLC’s Young Friends of Film Program.

Explore posts in the same categories: Film Comment, on @ the walter reade, Young Friends of Film

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2 Comments on “Stranger Than Spycraft: Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control”

  1. sam song Says:

    not sold on the satire spin, especially because it doesn’t account for the confounding (and mostly empty) philosophical spouting or the elusive allegorical elements of the film, neither of which can be be so tidily shelved simply as an inverse of the genre’s conventions. on top of that, lone man isn’t a spy but a hitman, and while he sort of evades categorization, i believe that’s the more accurate label. “hitman movie” then, i guess.

    jarmusch has, with this one, entered the unfortunate realm of self parody. its brilliance (as suggested by glenn kenny and j. hoberman) is impervious to me. i’ll probably revisit in a few weeks. i’ll take a jarmusch misstep over most other things that are out there.

  2. Lisa Says:

    Very clever to see the Bondian inverse here. Good review!

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