The hitman (Isaach De Bankolé) is practicing his Tai Chi and meditation in this airport toilet cubicle, and when he has finished he goes to meet his contacts to learn what his next mission will be. He sits down in the departure lounge and has the main contact's speech translated by the man's companion, although what he tells him does not sound as if it contains any useful information, merely cryptic observations. Nevertheless, whatever implied connection there is between them has meant he knows what he must do and so boards an aeroplane to Spain, where he has a fateful encounter to carry out...
More than one fateful encounter as it transpires, as the movie appears to contain nothing but that kind of confrontation, although to descirbe it like that makes it sound that this will be a conventional thriller patterned after film noir, when in fact there is very little action in it at all. Bankolé simply glides through the film from cameo star to cameo star, not even going as far as appearing to know what is going on himself. Jim Jarmusch, the writer and director, made this for the significantly titled Point Blank company, and being the Lee Marvin fan he is you can imagine his idol in the main role, acting very much as he had in the John Boorman cult classic, only here the hitman doesn't just want his money.
What he does was is hard to fathom, but perhaps the clue is in the title: not only is control limited by some unseen force, but it has to be limited itself and the hitman is the fellow to do it. Yet paradoxically he is being controlled himself, as he obediently travels from place to place according to what message he has been offered by his contacts, messages that incidentally are in an unexplained code that he seems to know the meaning of but is reluctant to let on to us watching the movie. Some of those contacts are more famous than others, so Tilda Swinton shows up in a cowboy hat and shoulder-length white wig to ramble about other films, and John Hurt also makes an appearance for about five seconds.
Each of these people give the hitman a matchbox, just as he gives them one back, for reasons none too apparent, and inside is usually one of those notes although the chance of them containing a few diamonds is also within the realms of possibility. But patterns are a form of control as well, and the film lives by its repetition, from various lines - almost everyone asks the protagonist if he can speak Spanish, and he always responds in the negative (although how did he understand the question?) - to similar shots such as a helicopter flying overhead to increase the paranoia factor. Only not too much as if there's one thing The Limits of Control is not is exciting as it proceeds at a stately pace, all wrapped up in itself and only ocasionally letting on that there is a point being made.
If you watch the credits to the end, you'll see the caption "No Limits No Control" fill the screen, which reads like a blow for anarchy, yet in a film so formalised it doesn't really fit what we have seen before it. You have a choice with this, you could just let it all drift by you and not apply any exact meaning to it all, something which in such a deliberately inscrutable work like this would be perfectly valid and it is attractively photographed in a spartan manner by Christopher Doyle, or you could sit and ponder overwhat you have sat through long afterwards. For many, The Limits of Control was too tedious for words and they were not even prepared to meet it part of the way, but as hinted at by the scenes where the hitman went to a gallery, you can easily interpret it the way you wish as if it were a work of art. After all, there are landscapes, still lives, and even a nude (Paz de la Huerta) included. Music by Boris.