Manchester lad Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) drags himself up from his desk as a young employment agency officer to become the enigmatic lead singer of newly formed Joy Division in the 70s music scene. In the last few years of his short life, he marries his girlfriend Debbie (Samantha Morton), rises to fame and acclaim as writer and dynamic punk rock singer, fathers a baby girl, falls in love with a Belgian part-time journalist Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) and struggles with epilepsy - until his tragic suicide in 1980 at age 23.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although vastly different in cinematic style, Control intersects with 24 Hour Party People (2002), which is also set in the 1970s Manchester music scene, when Factory Records burst onto the scene, signing up promising new bands with a purist charter - sometimes signed in Tony Wilson's own blood Wilson being the character common to both films, here played by Craig Parkinson (and by Steve Coogan in the earlier film). Both films are dramatisations, and both are fascinating as records of rock music triumphs and disasters of the era. Control, however, is a much more personal film, directed by famed photographer Anton Corbjin, who had specialised in rock bands and had in fact moved from his native Holland to England to be closer to where the music came from. He had photographed Joy Division among many others, including U2, Bryan Ferry, The Rolling Stones, Depeche Mode, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen.
In his debut feature, Corbjin makes good use of black and white, eschewing colour in a creative decision which helps deepen the film's sombre tone. The screenplay is based on Debbie Curtis' book, Touching from a Distance, which tells the story of her late husband and which we have to accept as pretty accurate. But fans of Joy Division (whose remaining members formed New Order) will bring their own sensibilities and ideas to the film, which explores the sad, tragic yet valuable life of Ian Curtis.
The most striking aspect of the film is how the screenplay puts a distance between Curtis the lost young man and Curtis the creative fountain of music that reached so many fans. Living in ordinary, even drab, circumstances in a small cottage in a Manchester suburb with his young wife and new baby, Curtis seems oddly out of synch with his public performance character.
Superbly cast, Control is a film that details its subject and his inability to control his life in ironic shades of grey. As if fate wanted to batter home its point, he was even epileptic, a condition that takes control of the body (albeit for short periods). The film is hardly an uplifting experience, but it is a sincere and well crafted portrait of one of England's tragic young musicians from a turbulent and fascinating era.
Review by Louise Keller:
Let yourself go, says the lyric, and Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) does exactly that, as he follows his creative musical dream, allowing him to firstly assume and then lose control, bewildered by a confluence of professional and personal conflicts. It is a tragic and overtly personal story about an ultra-sensitive artist of the 70s who finds his instincts push him beyond his comfort zone, and where guilt overtaxes his innate sense of decency. In his first feature film leading role, Riley delivers impressively as the troubled lead singer of Joy Division, whose audience, wife and mistress demand more from him than he is able to give.
Based on a book by Curtis' widow Debbie, Control is a moody portrait shot in black and white by first time director, Dutch-born portrait photographer Anton Corbijn, who perfectly captures the stifling English small-town mentality of Macclesfield. We first meet Curtis as a distracted student with an obvious sense of fun and a pronounced romantic streak. 'You're irretrievably mine,' he tells Debbie (Samantha Morton) as they kiss in the fields, but their relationship is fraught with pressure. There is the arrival of a baby daughter, lonely days on the road and 'the other woman' Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) whose presence becomes the final straw in his marriage. His ever-present fears about his epilepsy are a constant. He experiences his first frightening attack as the band is travelling home from a gig by car, but it gets worse as he has a seizure on stage and another after seeking solace with the scotch bottle on his own.
The atmosphere on stage - and the passionate musical delivery - is always authentic, as is the relationships between the band members, TV host Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson) who signs their contract with his blood (before fainting) and their forthright manager Rob (Toby Kebbell). Morton is outstanding and her body language in the final scenes will break your heart. Through much of the film we feel as though we are a fly on the wall as Curtis finds a foothold for his talents before stumbling irretrievably into the abyss created by his own mind.
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ANTON CORBIJN INTERVIEW
CAST: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Craig Parkinson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson, Toby Kebbell, Harry Treadway, Andrew Sheridan, Robert Shelly
PRODUCER: Anton Corbijn, Todd Eckert, Orian Williams
DIRECTOR: Anton Corbijn
SCRIPT: Matt Greenhalgh (book by Deborah Curtis)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Martin Ruhe
EDITOR: Andrew Hulme
MUSIC: Ian Neil (Music Supervisor)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Roope
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 25, 2007