Directed by Jim Jarmusch, 2009

I’m giving nothing away when I say that the latest film by enigmatic director Jim Jarmusch contrasts the quiet (almost wordless) inner control of a criminal-for-hire, Lone Man, (Isaach De Bankolé) with the turmoil of his marks. The latter exude outward confidence and invulnerability, but their ability to influence events is minimal and their hubris is that they refuse to acknowledge their limits. As in all Jarmusch films, most of the “action” takes place in the psyche not in the physical realm. We witness numerous scenes of Lone Man practicing Tai-chi and the film moves at roughly the same pace. As is also Jarmusch’s trademark, weird things occur and are unexplained. Paz de la Huerta shows up on numerous occasions, completely naked, but we never know exactly who she is, why she’s trying to seduce Lone Man, or why he rebuffs her. Nor do we know with certainty why Lone Man insists on ordering two espressos in separate cups, why Youki Kudoh delivers an impromptu speech on molecules in the midst of an information exchange, or why Tilda Swinton is the most conspicuously dressed “secret” contact in the history of double-dealing. Other than de la Huerta, nearly everyone Lone Man encounters (among them: Kudoh, Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray) flits across the screen in brief and cryptic cameo roles and we learn next to nothing about their roles or motives.

This film has not resonated well with critics or audience and is definitely not everyone’s cup of espresso, but it has rich awards if you view it as literally an art film instead of a conventional movie. In fact, it’s been many a year in which I’ve reveled in the sheer beauty of a film as I did this one. There are numerous shots of Lone Man entering the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid and the canvasses that he views setup subsequent internal struggles and external occurrences. In a way Jarmusch is punning off the old cartoon of a man watching TV of a man watching TV of a man watching TV. In several stunning point-of-view shots we’re not sure if we are seeing a painting, an open window, or a dream. The cinematography is stunning throughout—De Bankolé’s black skin against the red walls of a chic elevator, his silhouette against a frame wrapped in white linen, rays of sunlight bathing half of his face and shadow the other half, dappled light on a geometric staircase …. And suffice it to say that Tilda Swinton’s entrance is one of the most flamboyant in recent screen history. Everything that we see is a key to Lone Man’s soul and to considering the existential tensions between mind and matter, meaning and illusion, desire and mortality, and control and chaos. Make no mistake; you’ll leave this film either despising it or thinking it a masterpiece. I’m in the second camp and applaud Jarmusch’s courage in presenting such stark contrasts-—both philosophically and visually.—LV

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