Movie Review: Control

control

An ultimate example of beauty cut down and the effects of stress on bodies in motion, Joy Division burst upon the UK music scene in a melancholy fog, slouched on the brink of greatness, and crumbled to pieces. Anton Corbijn’s gorgeously shot Control details the later life of haunted frontman Ian Curtis, portrayed with astounding realism by Sam Riley.

 

Based on Curtis’ widow’s biography, the film nails a desolate, bleak Manchester, where punk rock and Bowie records offer the only respite from depressive boredom and unyielding domestic obligations. Corbijn complicates his protagonist’s immense talent with human nature: Curtis is beguiling onstage but a lousy husband/father/lover/friend. It’s a portrait of a real person, refreshing lacking in cliché and schmaltz. But it’s hard to watch Curtis’ self-indulgent histrionics as epilepsy engulfs him, gorging himself on hedonism at the expense of everyone close to him. And we all know how it ends.

 

Corbijn’s gamble to have the actors recreate Joy Division’s iconic sound pays off with shocking success. But the film can’t get past its own infatuation with Curtis, even as he’s dashing the dreams of his bandmates. Narcissistic with a strong prick streak is tough to take in a protagonist. I wish Corbijn had devoted a bit more time to the band dynamic and less to watching Curtis fling himself tragically hither and yon. Perhaps more interest could have been invested in the band that mourned, regrouped, and survived, becoming New Order. The film is a must for any Joy Division fan but a real downer for those unfamiliar with the band.

Grade: B-

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