The Limits of Control

Posted by schnolis on May 15th, 2009 filed in Reviews

THE LIMITS OF CONTROLThe Limits of Control is not your typical movie. Sure, it has most of the elements that comprise a film: actors, a plot, dialog, suspense, and a conclusion. But what’s missing from the film speaks more about it than everything that’s there. The film is lacking any true foundational context. This won’t make sense, though, until I explain some more of the story.

The film follows a man whose name we never learn. In fact, I cannot recall a single named character in the film. This man, played by Isaach De Bankolé, has agreed to perform some kind of job from a pair of men he meets in an airport. We learn nothing about what the men do, who they represent, what the job entails, or what their goals are. They could be the law, they could be criminals, they could be something else altogether. Nothing is clear. Most movies that begin this way use this type of ambiguity to heighten suspense.

The man travels around Spain and gets encrypted (or nonsensical) messages delivered to him in color-coded wooden matchboxes. These exchanges occur with other disguised men and women who always appear wearing sunglasses, hats, wigs, costumes, etc. Each speaks a different foreign language which the original man always seems to understand and says only odd things that probably have hidden meaning. The original man never really speaks, only listens to the arcane mumblings and the occasional off-topic rambling on science, music, or movies. I got the sense that information was being conveyed, but without sufficient context, don’t trust my judgment to perceive any difference between idle chit-chat, subterfuge, or nonsense.

All of his movements seem dedicated to tracking down a well-dressed man who lives in a heavily fortified bunker in the middle of dry, empty countryside. Our lone agent succeeds somehow in penetrating the significant defenses and confronts the suit-wearing man, ultimately completing his assignment. Once that’s done, he leaves the scene, doffs his work clothes, and disappears from our sights forever.

The movie works on several different levels, which is difficult to do. On the primary level, we’ve witnessed from start to finish an operation that calls for a hit on some kind of business man. But we’re unable to determine the moral right or wrongness of these actions, because we know little to nothing about every individual in the film. On another level, we witness a remarkable meta story about how regular citizens in our culture are unaware of the actions of a covert few working among us. Whether those agents are sleeper cell terrorists, government agents, or just a neighbor with a private agenda, plots are constantly hatched all around us.

When the end credits rolled I was pretty surprised to not have received the contextual information I thought was coming. That felt more like real-life than the movies, which was a rather incongruous feeling. But I liked it, and even more, I respect the film for it. Well done!

One interesting note: The title of the film on all the poster and the trailers is The Limits of Control. But at the end of the film the title showed up as No Limits No Control. I’m not sure whether either title is more appropriate for such an ambiguous film.

What I liked: Taking risks. The idea of a film that gives you a complete story but doesn’t help you fill in the blanks as to which side you’re likely to take in the conflict. It’s novel and intriguing. It simulates real-life situations, in which many parties take contrary positions to each other and there is no clear right or wrong perspective for someone not directly involved. My personal and a bit romanticized sense is that the lone man and his conspirators were a kind of rebel force subverting a corporate tyrant. I liked the use of so many languages by the lone man’s team. It gave the film an international flavor that provided a powerful sense of inclusion and multi-nationalism, and heightened the sense of importance to the actions taken.

What I disliked: The movie is certainly confusing and difficult to understand. That’s intrinsic to making a film in this way. There’s no easy way to approve or disapprove of anyone’s actions, and it’s hard therefore to care very much about the people without more information.

Rating: 9 of 10

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