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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 05.02.09] movie review thriller drama crime



Year: 2009
Directors: Jim Jarmusch
Writers: Jim Jarmusch
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: cyberhal
Rating: 7.8 out of 10

[Editor's note: This is one of the funniest reviews I have ever read, so enjoy! Nice job Hal]

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is beautifully shot, easy and impossible to understand, and you will either love it or hate it. In other words, it’s a hard core art house movie. I started off fascinated, then I got bored, and then I fell in love. I’ve seen it compared to the Lee Marvin classic crime flick Point Blank (1967), but it’s far closer to the more philosophical/poetic Kieslowski. This is a crime film with no real crime, an action movie with almost no action. Inspired by a short essay by the crazy dangerous genius William Borroughs, to me this movie was all about the extent to which we control our lives and reality by meaning we ascribe to our perceptions of reality. We the audience give the story meaning. Sorry chaps, if this kind of talk usually makes you want to saw your limbs off, then you are going to need a sharp saw.


The story (sorry, narrative) follows the progress of the Lone Man, played by the visually striking French/African actor Isaach De Bankolé. A man of few words, which probably relates to the fact that in Burrough’s essay, words function as a vehicle of control. The Lone Man is on some kind of criminal mission and his directions are provided by a series of philosophical outlandish characters who hand him matchboxes containing cryptic clues written on scraps of paper. Cue a musing Tilda Swinton as a blond cowgirl, and the drop dead gorgeous Paz de la Huerta who always appears naked, oh except for that entirely see-through plastic raincoat. In pursuit of who knows what, the immaculately suited Lone Man crosses the arid landscape of Spain by train, to the rich architectural landscape of Madrid and Seville. Christopher Doyle’s level of control as cinematographer is just massive, it’s a joy to watch the curves of modern buildings and old streets under his lens. The Lone Man’s odyssey is accompanied by the cool psychedelic vibes of experimental Japanese rock band Boris.

Well, that pretty much wraps it up for plot. So now it’s time to get in touch with my inner philosophy student, I call him Gerard, to see what he has to say. Gerard: “Every character that the Lone Man meets asks him a question. Tilda asks, “Are you interested in movies, by any chance? John Hurt, “Are you interested in art, by any chance?” Each one then proceeds to deliver a monologue on the nature of their own perception in movies/art/music, and it seemed to me to be all about the understanding of their own existence. The Lone Man says nothing. In fact, his self control is such that he lies in the bed with naked chick, even though she wants to make love. I mean even that master of self control, Leon the Professional, would have slept with this chick. The only time Lone Man ever smiles is when he watches a flamenco rehearsal, and I wonder if that’s because flamenco is a fusion of uncontrolled passion and control all in one, and almost impossible to see where the dividing line is.”

Now back to Hal: “at a certain point, I began to wonder if my perception of a lack of plot was about the control of my own reality. I suppose more could have “happened” in the plot, but maybe the fault was with my own perception. Perhaps I myself could control the plot by interpreting how I liked. I mean, we assign meaning to the people and events we see about us all the time, why not the film itself. If I see some dodgy looking geezer with dark glasses and tattoos on my street, I would probably wonder what he was up to. I suspect his motives. I imagine what he will do. Maybe he’ll steal my Audi. Maybe Jarmusch is doing the same thing to us with his movies. His characters are forever exchanging matchboxes, violins, a flamenco guitar. None of this is ever explained, and such story as there is has to be invented by the audience. Not exactly your typical narrative. But then this is a film in which the Lone Man, the protagonist, controls his own reality, and he can get into a locked room using only the power of imagination.”

Thank you Hal. How about you Cyberhal? Cyberhal: “I am sitting in Los Angeles, and as I was writing this review and earthquake shook my house. I ran outside and checked out the swimming pool, which had tiny ripples running across it. Arrghhh! But then I thought, hey maybe it was just the neighbors messing around with heavy furniture, it’s true they are annoying like that. I switch on the TV and the news confirmed a 4.3 on the scale. Now apart from proving that I am a giant baby, this story is a good example of the alternate meanings I can assign to the evidence before my eyes, to define my own reality: for a moment, I could choose between hating the neighbors and fear of mother nature. Most worryingly, I only finally “knew” what it was an earthquake when the media told me so. Really, it could have been a huge bomb blast, that’s correct there's a third possibility, it could be terrorists, and I will never know the truth.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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entizari (11 years ago) Reply

well, I avoided reading most of the review (cause I'd like it to all be a surprise when I see the film - can't wait!), but I'm REAAALLLLY looking forward to seeing this. as of Broken Flowers, Jarmusch really seems to be back on top form (though for some reason I seem to like his black & white films the most - excluding the newer Coffee & Cigarettes material).

again, this can't be released in Australia soon enough!

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Ben Auswtick (11 years ago) Reply

Great review, not sure what I'd make of the film but hey, if it's got Boris on the soundtrack you can't go far wrong.

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Kabir (11 years ago) Reply

Really looking forward to watch this film. Im sure it will be a new exp in his cinema.


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