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Hit Man of La Mancha

The Limits of Control (2009)

Teresa Isasi-Isasmendi/Focus Features

In “The Limits of Control,” Jim Jarmusch disappears so thoroughly into his elliptical style that he’s made an impossibly obtuse, arid film. It’s a vague abstraction of images, albeit ones framed with dreamlike, painterly gusto by rock-star DP Christopher Doyle. An exercise in gaudy self-indulgence, the film plods along through a series of cumbersome encounters, testing not the limits of control, but of patience.

Stone-faced, compulsively chilled-out Isaach de Bankolé stars as Lone Man, an assassin hired for a mysterious job that involves following lots of strung out, repetitious instructions theoretically leading to a significant end. He spends the movie traveling across the Spanish countryside, following instructions from his handlers and meeting a cavalcade of odd personality types sent his way. These include a pale movie buff (Tilda Swinton), a drifter from Mexico (Gael García Bernal) and a bespectacled woman (Paz de la Huerta) with a propensity for stripping naked.

The meticulously composed imagery serves as the picture’s primary attraction. Messrs. Jarmusch and Doyle set the Lone Man apart from his surroundings, looking on with methodical indifference as the camera adopts his point of view, sits behind him or captures him as he stares ahead with the background scenery enveloping him in a low-angle shot. There’s an arty formalism to the photography, in everything from the modernist lighting, to the propensity for slow, fluid pans and pushes. It’s appropriate for the surreal journey on which the Lone Man has embarked, through a universe entirely centered on him and his indecipherable mission.

The picturesque qualities do little to assuage the sheer long winded density of the project, however. The characters in the film aren’t really people. They’re Jarmuschian conceits, sent to deliver philosophical monologues that drone on torturously before disappearing, to be replaced by another interchangeable, briefly appearing star. There’s no humanity here, no genuine feeling. The picture badly needs some of the heartfelt yearning that’s characterized some of the more memorable loner figures in Mr. Jarmusch’s oeuvre. “The Limits of Control” is an expertly shot movie made without a single discernible broader idea.


Opens on May 1 in New York and on Dec. 11 in Britain.

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Boris; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Stacey Smith and Gretchen McGowan; released by Focus Features (United States) and Revolver Entertainment (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Isaach De Bankolé (Lone Man), Alex Descas (Creole), Jean-François Stévenin (French), Luis Tosar (Violin), Paz de la Huerta (Nude), Tilda Swinton (Blonde), Youki Kudoh (Molecules), John Hurt (Guitar), Gael García Bernal (Mexican), Hiam Abbass (Driver) and Bill Murray (American).


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