I have come to rely upon Metacritic perhaps more than any other website, or indeed, any other source of ideas, for advice on how to blow all of my money. Anything that can average all professional reviews of cultural products at a glance, and then link me to the full reviews if, say, I want to remember why I love certain critics, is indispensable as far as I’m concerned.
But you know, sometimes, we all make mistakes.**
The Limits of Control, Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, starring Isaach de Bankolé, garners an average rating of 40 out of 100 on Metacritic. (This puts it at the bottom end of the “mixed reviews” area of ratings, somewhere in between the scores for Land of the Lost (32) and Observe and Report (54)). I want to make this absolutely clear: this film is not a 40. However, this film is also not a Great Film in the sort of standard “film fan” sense of “A film I could watch over and over again”.
The key to understanding this film is that it is made for the initial watching. As Eric and I discussed, from the point of view of plot, this film is anti-action. Jarmusch has made an anti-movie, or at least an anti-action movie, or maybe an anti-Hollywood movie. (Christopher Doyle*** shot the film, and hence it is one of the best-looking things that a person could choose to regard). Everything that happens, everything the characters do, is deliberately slow, opaque, inexplicable.
We see the film from the point of view of the Lone Man. He knows everything, but says nothing, so the viewer has nearly no idea what is going on with the story at any time; all that Jarmusch makes available is pure plot, pure on-screen material. Beyond the fact that the Lone Man is some kind of spy/assassin**** who is slowly moving through Spain, almost no information of any use is present. Jarmsuch eschews (that’s not even strong enough of a word; mabye “excises entirely”) all of the events that a normal action film in the vein of Where Eagles Dare or Die Hard would show. There are no guns, there is no sex, there is almost no violence. There are no set pieces. There is suspense, to be sure, but as Jarmusch said about this film, “I always wanted to make a film…with suspense but no drama.”
What there are are matchboxes, trains, two incredible suits, some serious flamenco performance, and a continuous series of amazing maxims (“Reality is arbitrary”). There is an absolutely fucking unreal soundtrack with contributions from Boris and Sunn O))), among others. There is a lot to be experienced, a lot to be seen, a lot to be pondered on levels historical, philosophical, visual, and metanarrative. I don’t think there’s much to be gained by me actually reviewing the movie, here; it’s almost indescribable using just words. Suffice it to say that this film has a lot to offer the patient viewer.
Which is precisely why it is all the more strange, and a little disappointing, that an otherwise thoughtful and open-minded critic such as Roger Ebert***** should give this film 1/2 of a star. Maybe Ebert was just in a hurry while he was watching this film, or had other things on his mind. He has both admired and savaged Jarmusch’s films in the past, so neither reaction would come as a surprise. He really didn’t like Dead Man, which is paced similarly to this film, so maybe unless you’re Tarkovsky, do not make a snail-paced movie with the hopes of garnering Roger’s favor. But damn, Mr. Ebert! Your review of this film is damn near impolite.
Now, this film may be difficult to watch and enjoy a second time; indeed, Jarmusch’s pace allows one to absorb more upon first viewing of this film than just about any other film. And if you’re looking for the next Star Trek, well, this isn’t it. However, if it is still playing on a large screen somewhere in your town, please, give it a shot (especially if you like any of Jarmusch’s films). Let Doyle’s colors and lights and darks wash over you; let the Boris wash over you; let the incredible control and understatement of de Bankolé’s performance wash over you. Despite what Metacritic says, The Limits of Control is far more worthy of your ten dollars than probably about 90% of films you could watch this summer instead.
**By “we,” I mean, “Metacritic,” not, um, me, necessarily.
****Assassin, like, in the classical sense, almost.
*****Don’t get me wrong. I love Roger Ebert, and I think he’s a fine critic and writer. I just think he got this one wrong.