Jim Jarmusch is an undoubtedly talented director, and he’s also responsible for one of the best hip-hop-related movies of all time. That said, his films have a tendency to be overlong and somewhat self-indulgent. Even films like Dead Man and Down By Law, widely considered some of his best work, are—let’s face it—really fucking hard to watch in one sitting. But while they could benefit from some heavy editing, at least those films boast characters, dialogue, and plots that make the experience worthwhile, even if you do have to keep your eyes pried open Clockwork Orange-style.
The same can not be said for Jarmush’s latest, The Limits of Control, an exercise in arthouse pretension that creates a new cinematic standard for boring. You know a film is tedious when the most interesting thing that happens in its two-hour runtime is that the protagonist changes clothes. Once. Aside from the location and camerawork (the film is beautifully shot in various parts of Spain) there is nothing remotely interesting about this movie, which consists of a “mysterious” man (played by Ghost Dog’s Isaach De Bankolé) sleeping and ordering coffee at cafés, as well as engaging (read: looking forward stoically) in the odd conversation with the likes of Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Gael García Bernal, none of whom ever make any sense. It’s as if Jarmusch is torturing the audience on purpose; when a horny nude woman appears in his hotel room—promising to provide at least some respite from the monotony, however brief—De Bankolé explains that he doesn’t have sex while he’s working. Instead he goes to sleep next to her, on top of the covers, in that same fucking blue suit. And so it goes. We watch De Bankolé walk around, ride trains, do tai-chi (no, really) and occasionally look at a painting in Madrid’s Reina Sofía museum. The film’s payoff, if you can call it that, makes as little sense as the muck preceding it, and as the credits roll you find yourself wondering how a project like this ever got greenlighted. Jarmusch must be the fucking Lebron James of pitchmen.
As I left the theater (San Francisco’s Red Vic), I expected to hear other audience members bashing the film, but to my surprise they were completely silent. It was as if they were afraid to admit they hadn’t liked it, for fear of appearing stupid or “too mainstream.” Well I’m going to come right out and say it: The Limits of Control is total bullshit. And it hurts me to say that, given that Ghost Dog is one of my all-time favorite films. But fuck it—it’s the truth.