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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Control (2007)
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by brianorndorf

"Joy, Divided."
4 stars

Unlike many musical icons, Ian Curtis was one of the few who gave outsiders access to his suffering. If you take his behavior in “Control” as semi-truth, Curtis was a sulking open wound, in constant debate with himself about his life, love, and music. Perhaps “Control” is a wobbly construction of facts, but as musical bio-pics go, it has real cinematic personality and avoids most of the painful clichés that tend to shadow these productions.

Ian Curtis (played by Sam Riley) was a shy, withdrawn man who stumbled into an enduring musical legacy. “Control” seeks to strip away the halo and wings and present Curtis as a person who treasured performing, creating music, and the spark of relationships, but refused to participate in the emotions. Directed by music video dynamo Anton Corbijn, “Control” is a bleak portrait of a tattered artist; a singer who couldn’t help but screw everything up around him, feeling the earth-shattering sting of every failure and the sweaty panic of every triumph.

Shot in gorgeous B&W, “Control” aims to maintain a traditional bio-pic rhythm by tracking Curtis’s solemn life in the early going. Married too young to teen sweetheart Deborah (Samantha Morton) and resigned to the middle-class life in Manchester, Curtis’s fascination with rock star trimmings and extravagant stage performances (such as the Sex Pistols) turned his head to music, where he joined a few ambitious fellows and formed Warsaw, later to be known as Joy Division.

“Control” pilots through the expected sights: time with Factory Records honcho Tony Wilson, Joy Division’s rise to underground eminence, and the unholy grind of touring. Curtis’s depression underscores the film; an inherent moodiness aggravated by the birth of his daughter Natalie and the development of epileptic seizures, which sent Curtis down a road of prescription drug experimentation and psychologically destructive uncertainty.

“Control” doesn’t make excuses for Curtis’s behavior, portraying him as a rogue personality quite capable of hurting those he loved. But the source of the film, Deborah’s 1995 book “Touching from a Distance,” is what bothers me here. Once “Control” turns to address Curtis’s affair with Belgian groupie Annik Honore, the film elevates Deborah to a hackneyed piece of embittered housewife sainthood, not to mention portraying Honore has an empty soul whose good looks and STD allure stole Ian away from his domestic duties. In the lackluster second half of the picture, you can sense Deborah’s script-approval fingerprints all over the material.

However weak the war at home is portrayed, “Control” remains an arresting snapshot of the late 70’s English music movement (far more evocative than “24 Hour Party People”) and an unnerving reminder just how unique and intense Joy Division was as a band. Corbijn sells the atmospherics of Curtis’s life with greater panache than the specifics, yet, with a personal history undefined, perhaps this is the most accurate depiction of Curtis that can possibly be forged.

Rumbling to the event of Curtis’s 1980 suicide, “Control” finds a focal point and runs with it. It’s not a graphic affair, but the filmmaker skillfully brings the audience inside the alienated despair, as Curtis faced a cruel life of medical complications, demanding success (that would take him to America), and an irrevocably broken marriage. It’s a somber ending to a puzzling life, but it’s unquestionably the stuff of hypnotic rock legend.

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originally posted: 12/07/07 18:20:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/11/08 Charles Tatum A bit cold, try "24 Hour Party People" instead 4 stars
12/08/07 Ole Man Bourbon Good but forgettable. 3 stars
12/05/07 pauline frank ( from Manchester ) Brilliant,the Grimy North never looked so Kool! 4 stars
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  10-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 03-Jun-2008



Directed by
  Anton Corbijn

Written by
  Matt Greenhalgh

  Sam Riley
  Samantha Morton
  Craig Parkinson

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