Miniaturist, minimalist, even the occasional miserabilist, Avatar of Cool Jim Jarmusch has been a love-him-or-run-screaming-in-the-opposite-direction proposition since his 1984 critical/commercial breakthrough, Stranger Than Paradise. Jarmusch's arty, self-conscious doodlings have been hailed as nirvana by audiences reeling from Hollywood's standard ADD notion of entertainment, and equated to drying paint by those unwilling to board Jarmusch's hipster train to nowheresville.
Jarmusch-come-latelys who dug 2005's (relatively conventional by Jarmusch standards) Broken Flowers will probably grit their teeth throughout The Limits of Control. But this longtime Jarmusch enthusiast thinks it's the Akron native's strongest work since 1995's Dead Man. If Dead Man was Jarmusch's cockeyed paean to, among other things, spaghetti westerns, Control has the feel of a Godardian riff on (Jean-Pierre) Melville. Or is that a Melvillian riff on Godard? Either way, it's not likely to win him any new converts.
The Jarmusch fan base, however, should start queuing up now, since films this unapologetically rarefied never last long in North American theaters — not even art houses like the Cedar Lee. Isaach De Bankolé plays Lone Man, a typically taciturn, largely inscrutable Jarmusch protagonist who gives every appearance of being a somnambulist, despite the fact that his character never seems to sleep. A pointedly obfuscating series of encounters with equally confounding, baldly monickered types (Tilda Swinton is Blonde, Gael García Bernal is Mexican) passes for plot (never a big deal in Jarmusch land anyway). Like most Jarmusch films, The Limits of Control is basically a series of repetitions, and the transcendental beauty of cinematographer Chris Doyle's gorgeously lit, rigorously composed images makes the experience damn near hypnotic.