The Limits of Control

The director Jim Jarmusch returns with a typically deadpan take on a laconic killer that borders on tedium but still retains a rigorous beauty.

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Four years after the beguiling Broken Flowers and 10 since Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, the indie hipster Jim Jarmusch returns with another minimalist road movie and another film about a Zen hit man. The French-African actor Isaach de Bankolé plays a laconic killer whose assignment involves a series of mysterious coffee meetings with enigmatic but outré guest stars including Tilda Swinton in a white cowboy hat and a blonde wig, a desiccated John Hurt, and an over-the-top Gael Garcia Bernal. They each spout the passwords "You don't speak Spanish, right?", spin off on arcane verbal tangents about pet subjects such as Bohemians, art or movies, and pass on a coded message in a matchbox. These lopsided head-to-heads are interspersed with equally ritualistic shots of travel, landscape and architecture, often shot by the inspired Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle. A structuralist anti-thriller, The Limits of Control retains the elements of pulp fiction but, through repetition and abstraction, divests them of narrative intrigue, psychology and, it must be said, excitement. At just under two hours, the movie pushes towards tedium. Still, tune in to the filmmaker's strangely groovy rigour and deadpan whimsy and you'll allow that even such an elliptical and self-conscious exercise in style can yield rare moments of beauty and flashes of insight.

* Tom Charity