(2009) Jim Jarmusch.
Jim Jarmusch is not a great moviemaker because of the way Ideas are postulated, but because of the craftsmanship of their scenarios. This movie is one lumbering scenario in the mask of an Idea, spiraling into tedium in its patterns and repetitions. The variation and routine is complexly laid out to little effect. The deliberately fuzzy aims become clear in the student-film level intellect and cheaply-wowed mystic spareness of the sequences and dialogue. Isaach De Bankole is a compelling, stone-chiseled countenance and infuses it with a delicate, spartan life, but the movie hardly supports him. The references to art, film, literature are all thrown bones with no marrow, footnotes of the moviemaker's imagination – as if the movie should be left in the bathroom stack for hunched readers to skim like a book of famous quotes. The dialogue is collectively trite and quips about hallucinogenic drugs and molecular science limply suck those subjects of any suggestiveness. It feels as if one is being whispered repeatedly, tortuously like MK-Ultra, what one already knows, desecrating the richness of experience, and so, among other things, the cinematography fails to capture the audiences’ awareness of the Spanish environs (see the opening five minutes of Whit Stillman’s Barcelona). The climax showdown with typical asshole American epitomizes the meek lefty's imaginary enemy. Is Jarmusch trying to make a movie from the perspective of an ill-informed Western European conspiracy theorist? The agent of the secret group for whom Lone Man kills speaks French to him, translated into English by a gold-chained oaf. Do the rest of the characters represent Euro-intelligentsia clichés? If so, the movie is natural to the Jarmusch canon, but it would then follow that Jim's grave nods to the imagination should be deliberately trivial, which it cannot be said they are, and in effect one is embarrassed for them.
Bill Murray, the character called American, as always with all material whether Rodney Dangerfield or Shakespeare, is superbly in tune and makes the most with least. He tosses his toupee atop the decorative skull on his desk, and shares a quick stare with his own death-head that is more abundant with personality than most of the whole movie, and the excessive f-bombs are a welcome ring. Bill’s pedigree in sketch comedy - to work in context out of context - serves the movie’s groove that is otherwise mostly missed. Gael’s gaucho getup is enviably gritty and it seems John Hurt walks out of an Evelyn Waugh novel before hurrying back in, but, overall, a silly mod pop band from the late 60s could have taken this script and made it into a counterculture hit, just substitute the band for the Lone Man. The Limits Of Control puts Jarmusch in jeopardy of the Tarantino hero-worship syndrome – that obsessed fandom will let the moviemaker get away with any movie, and so the editing process in later work degenerates.
The theme of emptiness and dream-logic mystery peaked with 80s Cold War nuclear brinksmanship. The standards are different today. Good art about “nothing” can be engaging (like Naked & Seinfeld), but Limits seems to be a shoddy assemblage of discarded jots from the truly profound movies upon which Jim's rep is based - Dead Man, Ghost Dog, Stranger Than Paradise etc. Among the digital age of information mega-scope (whether the info true or false), the smoky beatnik style of incessantly flip cultural references seems more dorky than cool. Jim knows this - he spoke sardonically and rakishly about transcendent socio-aesthetic paradigms in the Q&A after a screening of The Limits Of Control at Lincoln Center on April 30.
*For a more relevant and resonant experience of how alienation, imagination and authority mix a volatile cocktail, see Observe & Report.