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The Films Of Jim Jarmusch: A Retrospective

by The Playlist Staff
July 17, 2012 11:09 AM
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"Broken Flowers" (2005)
As an aging lothario, time moves slowly for Bill Murray’s Don Johnston. Now limited to spending time alone, he wastes his days bs’ing with neighborhood snoop Winston (Jeffrey Wright) while lounging in an unglamorous, Murray-ian sweatsuit ensemble. A fateful letter arrives on his doorstep, notifying him of two surprises: he’s a father, and the son he never knew is coming for him. With the sender unknown, Don embarks on a panicked road trip, arriving at the doorsteps of each significant past lover without once mentioning the letter. This game of emotional Russian Roulette takes its toll on the withdrawn protagonist as each futile visit slowly reveals the depths of his loneliness and the debris left behind by his libidinous recklessness, the uncovering of the biological clock, purposely buried underneath crumpled sheets. While there’s a certain unlikelihood in Murray bedding the likes of Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and even a trailer-parked Tilda Swinton, the film boasts an array of wonderfully vibrant moments, both touching and painful, as past lovers reconnect, smiling and ignoring the mutually inflicted scars they wear on their sleeves. Jarmusch patterns his film as something of an emotional travelogue, Johnston retracing his steps, seeing the blood left behind in his footprints, and ultimately reaching the truth behind Hollywood’s popular “damaged ladykiller” persona. [B+]

"The Limits Of Control" (2009)
An opaque, surrealist, but striking assassin film, Jarmusch’s take on the hitman man genre is sort of like what would happen if you merge Jean-Pierre Melville’s largely silent and still “Le Samourai” with the reality loops of Alain Renais’Last Year At Marienband.” Featuring an incredible international cast -- Gael Garcia Bernal, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Bill Murray, Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas, Paz de la Huerta, French actor Alex Descas (from Claire Denis’ “35 Shots of Rum”), Japanese actress Youki Kudoh and more -- Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control” centers on a mysterious loner and assassin (Jarmusch regular Isaach De Bankolé) hired to kill a U.S. businessman in the heart of Spain. But this is no ordinary killer. Possessing a meditative stillness and a rigid code of discipline (no phones, sex or guns), using his imagination, Bankolé’s lone man killer bends the rules of subjective reality, which helps him transcend simple matters of physics, time and space. Along the way, he travels to Madrid and Sevilla, picking up clues and paradoxes from fellow agents, but lurking in the shadows are other imaginative killers who are setting up a double cross. Or at least, that’s one way to read the film. Set to a gorgeously droning wall of ambient noise-metal, this oblique anti-thriller isn’t an easy film to penetrate, but its odd humor and hypnotic, swirling mood is one of the most arresting head trips of Jarmusch’s career, and one that resonates far and deep into the psyche. [A-]

- Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Gabe Toro, Mark Zhuravsky, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth

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  • hank | July 19, 2012 4:12 AMReply

    wow. man, there are some very generous ratings here for his later work.

  • KLF | July 17, 2012 4:23 PMReply

    Some are better than others but from "Stranger Than Paradise" on, I don't think he's ever made a bad film, they're all enjoyable in some way. Even "Coffee & Cigarettes" hits some profound and unexpected notes with the last segment. My favorites are "Stranger Than Paradise," "Down by Law," "Dead Man" (his best) and "The Limits of Control."

    It's not perfect, but "The Limits of Control" is vastly underrated, much of it breaks new ground for Jarmusch. It also has a funny, deadpan concept that runs through the entire film: it has all the basic elements of a classic spy film, but none of it comes together that way. Minor spoilers: He goes to exotic locales, but all we see are cheap cafés and art museums. He has a gun, but he never loads it (much less shoots it). There's a girl...well, see it for yourself.

  • arnulf | July 17, 2012 3:54 PMReply


  • Marc | July 17, 2012 2:14 PMReply

    Dead Man and The Limits Of Control are his worst by far.Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law are his best work.

  • Fired | July 17, 2012 2:23 PM

    Oh man, fired.

  • Todd | July 17, 2012 11:38 AMReply

    Dead Man, Ghost Dog and The Limits of Control seem his best work to me.

    I wish as many people saw Dead Man as saw Unforgiven.

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