The idea of a Jim Jarmusch spy thriller is as puzzling as it is weirdly compelling, and The Limits of Control lives up to both of those qualities—puzzling and compelling—in just about every way imaginable. It's a kind of anti–Bourne Identity: Isaach De Bankolé plays an unnamed suit-wearing man traveling around Spain, meeting with various unnamed undercover agents in cafes, and listening to their existential monologues about art and science. In this way, Control is a spiritual sequel to Jarmusch's delightful Coffee and Cigarettes, in part because it features cameos from actors like Tilda Swinton (insanely glamorous in a blond fright wig and leopard print) and Bill Murray (in his less-bombastic underplaying mode).

Support The Stranger

But between the actorly experiments with monologue, the main character confronts some tired spy tropes that have been resurrected to bizarre effect, like the spy's sex-object love interest (the fetching Paz de la Huerta plays a bespectacled woman who remains naked through the entire movie—in the credits, her character is referred to as "Nude") and the villain's ridiculously overprotected armed compound. At times, the movie leans a tad too much toward the play-acting side of things (for instance, a heavily tattooed Gael García Bernal turns in a wobbly performance due to too many affectations for a character who is barely onscreen for 10 minutes), but that boyish overexuberance is part of the charm of any spy movie.

Swinton's character mentions Hitchcock in her monologue about movies, and it's hard not to picture Hitch in Control's audience, sighing audibly at the film's lack of a chase sequence or reversal of fortune or easily identifiable MacGuffin. But that's not the point here. Control is Jarmusch's experiment to see whether he can make a movie that is undeniably his within the well-worn constraints of a genre picture. It is an undeniable success. recommended