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    Thu, 30 Apr 2009 11:26:16

    Movie Reviews:

    Undeniably beautiful but often frustratingly dull, The Limits of Control is more like a lethargically low-key art installation than a traditional conspiracy flick. This is the kind of patience-testing plod that film school students praise for not pandering to audience expectations by relying on a logical plot, a snappy pace, or believable characters. Meanwhile, members of the hoi polloi will mock it as the sort of self-indulgent irony that only film students claim to enjoy.

    Bill Murray, star of writer/director Jim Jarmusch's previous and by far most commercially successful film, has a brief cameo here. Also, both movies involve road trips of a sort. But any Broken Flowers fans expecting another deadpan quirky character study will be in for a letdown that Christopher Doyle's striking cinematography may not assuage.

    Isaach De Bankolé, previously seen in Jarmusch's Night on Earth, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Coffee and Cigarettes, stars as an elegantly impassive man on an unspecified mission. That's "impassive" as in utterly expressionless, a sharp-dressed stone-face with almost no dialogue.

    Even the unexpected appearance of a deliciously naked girl (Paz De La Huerta) in his hotel room doesn't shake his robot-like reserve, despite the fact that she is pointing a gun at him. She turns out to be as unexcitable and blasé as he is. When he casually takes her cell phone offscreen to smash it, she reacts with the monotone observation, "no guns, no mobiles, no sex." Some guys are just no darn fun.

    The man of mystery spends most of the movie staring at his hotel room ceiling, looking at museum paintings that seem related to his assignments, and meeting a succession of eccentric contacts at outdoor cafés. One of them, Tilda Swinton in a white cowboy hat and platinum wig, sums up what may be the movie's theme: "The best films are like dreams you're never sure you've really had." Or maybe the guy in the airport who says "reality is arbitrary" has the right idea.

    Trainspotters will note that The Limits of Control shares a title with a 1975 essay by William Burroughs about behavior modification. Although the film is not an adaptation of that piece, it could be argued that the unnamed man's actions are dictated by his coded instructions. Also, the essay mentions a professor who used electricity to evoke brain responses on human subjects in Spain, where most of the movie takes place.

    The easily bored may want to take a clue from the mystery man's standard café order by downing two shots of espresso before seeing The Limits of Control. But parts of it will linger like a low-key, David Lynch-lite head trip long after the lights come up.

    —James Dawson
    04.30.09

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