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      The Limits of Control Review

      The Limits of Control poster

      The Limits of Control

      Betsy Sharkey, Chicago Tribune

      There are endless ways to film a face, particularly one with such a rich landscape as Isaach De Bankole's - cheekbones rising sharply over deep valleys, thundercloud eyes gazing straight into the gathering storm, and a wide plain of a forehead riding high above.

      In "The Limits of Control," Jim Jarmusch's absorbing and visually mesmerizing new crime thriller, the filmmaker risks everything on the power of De Bankole's face to carry us through. It is a gamble that pays off as the actor moves in near silence and isolation on a journey that we surmise will have a dark end.

      The story opens at the Madrid airport with the arrival of De Bankole's Lone Man - like the film's other characters, his name is symbolic, never uttered. Two men are waiting for him. And so begins a series of encounters marking each leg of his travels and filled with clues and coded exchanges that manage to be both comical and ominous.

      Though this is anything but a fast film, it is always on the move, tailing the hired killer through a literal and figurative maze toward his quarry. De Bankole plays a lean, hard man whose days begin with the controlled ballet of tai chi and end with him lying corpse-like on the bed, eyes open, his only fuel the two espressos - precisely two, never a double shot - that he orders at every cafe.

      Is that a sign, like the matchboxes carefully passed that always carry instructions? Or merely the preference of an exacting man? We're never sure. What we do know is that what Lone Man can control, he controls to the extreme, which is one of the central precepts Jarmusch examines.

      "No sex?" asks Nude, Paz De La Huerta's mysterious cipher, wrapped only in her musings and temptations, and, on occasion, a clear plastic raincoat. No, he answers, not while he's working.

      Jarmusch has said he was inspired by a trifecta of a William Burroughs essay, from which the film's title and its theme of words as the ultimate source of control and power are drawn; French crime dramas of the '70s and '80s; and John Boorman's thriller "Point Blank." All that would suggest a noir experience, but that is not what Jarmusch has given us. Instead the film is like a series of sun-saturated French Impressionist paintings, so beautifully is it shot by cinematographer Christopher Doyle and so soft-focus is its narrative.

      Each character enters and defines the space and the story in his or her own way, loosely linked moments with De Bankole's mission providing the connective tissue, a classic Jarmusch approach. The exceedingly fine supporting cast is led by John Hurt as Guitar, a Tennessee Williams sort of genteel philosopher; Gael Garcia Bernal as the roughed-up cowboy, Mexican; and Tilda Swinton as the trench-coat-clad film star Blonde. Bill Murray, who was the spine of the writer-director's last film, 2005's "Broken Flowers," is just a quick-stroke cameo here as American.

      As with all Jarmusch films, there is much unexplained. It's up to you to distill meaning - which will leave some convinced that the director is self-indulgent, and others deeply satisfied.

      I fall into the deeply satisfied camp with what may well be Jarmusch's most enigmatic film yet. In the opening scene when De Bankole meets his first contact, he is told, "Use your imagination," which turns out to be sage advice for us as well.

      MPAA rating: R (for graphic nudity and some language).

      Running time: 1:56.

      Starring: Isaach De Bankole (Lone Man); Pas de la Huerta (Nude); Tilda Swinton (Blonde); John Hurt (Guitar); Hiam Abbass (Driver); Bill Murray (American).

      Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; produced by Stacey Smith and Gretchen McGowan. A Focus Features release.

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