In Theaters: The Limits of Control

Movieline Score: 8

Name values aside, perhaps Wired should have considered Jim Jarmusch over J.J. Abrams as a guest editor for its May issue. Abrams's emphatic sense of puzzlement, after all, has little on that of Jarmusch, whose new film The Limits of Control reaffirms his place among the mindbending vanguard.

Jarmusch functions like the Jim Cameron of nothingness, perpetually refining his lost, laconic characters into a sort of state-of-the-art inertia. They're moving, they're breathing, they're talking. But since the filmmaker's raw 1980 debut Permanent Vacation, their faces reflect increasingly complex discretions. None withhold more than that of leading man Isaach De Bankolé, a Jarmusch regular whose primary purpose in Control is to transmit signals, merchandise and payback. He's denied even an identity, never referred to by name and credited only as Lone Man.

Working his way through Spain via air, rail, road and finally foot, knocking back two espressos at a time, he encounters a spectrum of similarly anonymous cryptoids from the rosters of international cinema: the skeevy Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal); the jittery Violin (Luis Tosar); the wizened Guitar (John Hurt) the sultry, clothes-allergic Nude (Paz de la Huerta); the film-lover Blonde (Tilda Swinton); the philosopher Molecules (Youki Kudoh); and, en route to his rural finish line, his accomplice Driver (Hiam Abbas). Their meetings are mostly transactional; Lone Man trades hard cases and hard looks to each for (literally) digestible scrap of symbols pointing him down the road. He denies only Nude, whose solicitations for sex interrupt his preferred tai-chi-and-wait routine.

That really is about the extent of Jarmusch's plot, but the riddles persist -- compoundingly, entertainingly so. Most surface in the hot light of bucolic Sevilla and the contours of De Bankolé's affectless face, both shot with customary grace by the great Christopher Doyle. (The droning Japanese ensemble BORIS exquisitely complements those images on the soundtrack.) Lone Man's discipline and posture are obviously those of a mercenary, but in whose employ? And to what end? What semi-criminal underground unleashed all these quirky interlopers into his quest? Control plays not unlike Jarmusch's 2005 middler Broken Flowers, in fact, swapping Bill Murray's middle-aged accidental sleuth for De Bankolé's middle-aged intentional cipher. Both travel despite themselves, all in the name of some mortal affirmation right around the corner.

As such, it's probably no coincidence that Murray and De Bankolé share Control's climax. Or maybe anticlimax: Their confrontation openly defies the tone that precedes it, leaving the viewer to wonder what clue he or she perhaps missed somewhere in the director's maze. And the beauty of Jarmusch, of course, is that the clues are almost certainly there. For the adventurous -- as it has now for three decades -- the puzzle begins anew. Eat your heart out, J.J. Abrams. RATING (out of 10): 8