Director Jim Jarmusch has never been one to pay too much heed to plot, preferring to focus his intense talents on deliberate pacing, kooky characters, and overall mood. But where past endeavors have succeeded with this formula, his latest, The Limits of Control, lacks a payoff after all its glacial pacing. It's an existential, '60s-style caper flick—without any sort of closure, or moment of release, or even any idea of what, exactly, the caper involves.
A mysterious, taciturn man (Isaach De Bankolé) travels to Madrid, seemingly en route to commit an elaborate crime. He sits at cafés awaiting further instructions from a litany of unusual characters (Tilda Swinton, Gael García Bernal, John Hurt, et al.), where he's provided with cryptic messages, which he eats upon memorization. Then, he gets on a train and goes to a different Spanish city to repeat the process all over again.
Not a lot happens in The Limits of Control—or more accurately, the same dozen things happen over and over in a perpetual loop of languid, dreamy silence. It's a frustrating film that takes the basic framework of a crime movie and strips it of plot, dialogue, and intrigue—yet despite all of this, it's a beautiful picture, thanks to Jarmusch's signature flourishes and De Bankolé's arresting presence.