Portrait of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), the enigmatic singer of Joy Division whose personal, professional, and romantic troubles led to suicide at the age of 23. Story takes us from Curtis' schooldays in Macclesfield in 1973 where the shy Bowie fan daydreamed in class and married his best friend’s girl Deborah (Samantha Morton), up to his suicide on the eve of Joy Division's first American tour. Based on the memoirs of Deborah Curtis, the film focuses on Joy Division’s mounting success and the chaos of Curtis' personal life.
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BY Andrew Hedley Flicks Writer
Who better to make a biopic on than Ian Curtis - one of those figures who, to coin a clichéd phrase, lived fast and died young. Control follows Curtis’ (Sam Riley) life from his final year at school in the boring Northern town of Macclesfield, hooking up with his best friend’s girlfriend Deborah (Samantha Morton), getting married almost immediately and joining the band that would only become huge years after his death. As the band begins to consume him, he loses interest in his dull day job at the employment office and also in his wife. Plagued by an increasing amount of epileptic fits, Curtis tries to balance his love between two women, a baby, and his fans. He fails and takes his own life on the eve of his break-through American tour, at the age of 23.
Director Anton Corbijn, who knew the band as a photographer for NME magazine, recreates the imagery of the period through stunning black and white cinematography, feeling that this was the best way to portray a band that rarely, if ever, was photographed in colour. The result is one of the most beautiful films of the year. Every shot is perfectly framed and immaculately presented, capturing an overcast English gloom that was such an influence on the band.
The performances are excellent, particularly Sam Riley’s turn as Curtis. He performs the songs himself, capturing both Curtis’ monotonous drone and his unusual style of dancing – like a tortured spider, reminiscent of the epilepsy which haunted him. Samantha Morton is suitably dowdy next to Curtis’ foreign mistress Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara). The other usual suspects – Tony Wilson, Bernard Sumner, etc – are all brought to life accurately, and Toby Kebbell is hilarious as their manger Rob Gretton.
Unexpectedly, the screenplay is very funny (Well, practically everyone is a joker next to Ian Curtis). The black humour gives the film a much needed balance. Whether it be bassist Peter Hook mocking the name of fellow band The Buzzcocks, or Tony Wilson signing a contract with his own blood, there’s always a laff to be 'ad.
But it has always been Joy Division, not its frontman, that achieved cult status. Certainly, it might have been appropriate to see more of the music-making process. The band, in a way, represented Curtis’ legacy. That was where his talent and influence lay. As an individual, he was nothing. But this, of course, is entirely the point. Control merges the man’s story with his music to create an extraordinary cinematic rendering of despair.