June 16, 2008



Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People (2002) touched briefly on the brilliant tragic career of Ian Curtis and his band Joy Division, but it was always a powerful subject deserving of its own film. Now acclaimed music video director Anton Corbijn (Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box," U2's "One," etc.) makes his feature debut with the two-hour biopic Control, and though he can't keep the film away from the usual biopic formula, Corbijn's stark, black-and-white widescreen visual scheme captures some of the story's unique power.

Sam Riley makes a commanding Curtis, a brooding, intelligent young Manchester man looking for some creative outlet. He's so passionate that, as a teen, he impulsively marries Debbie (Samantha Morton) and has a baby long before his music takes off (he toils daily at an employment agency throughout most of the film). His intense songs and frighteningly direct stage performances endear him to audiences, but money is still tight. On top of these troubles, he falls for another woman, Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara) and begins to suffer from occasional epileptic fits. After two great albums ("Unknown Pleasures," from 1979 and "Closer," from 1980) and a smattering of singles (including the iconic "Love Will Tear Us Apart"), Curtis hangs himself at age 23 just before the band's first U.S. tour.

It's a familiar rock star movie arc, and we've seen it all before, especially in live-fast-die-young films like Sid & Nancy and The Doors (1991). Morton gets top billing, and she's one of the most fascinating, fearless actresses around, but she only barely gets above the role of the waiting, worrying wife; she rarely leaves the apartment. The three other band members, played by Joe Anderson, Harry Treadaway (one of the twins in Brothers of the Head) and James Anthony Pearson, barely register any personality at all. Nevertheless, Corbijn brings Control to life thanks in large part to Riley's great performance, cursed with the intelligence to acknowledge and understand his own peculiar kind of sadness. But undoubtedly the best thing about the film is the vivid re-capturing of the band's live shows; they sound real, as opposed to pre-recorded. The television debut of the song "Transmission" in particular feels like the real McCoy.

The DVD from Miriam (The Weinstein Company), comes with a commentary track by director Corbijn, a making-of featurette (23 minutes), an interview with Corbijn (13 minutes), extended live concert performances from the film ("Transmission," "Leaders of Men" and "Candidate"), promos for other music-related films, stills and promotional items. The best part is an original BBC "video" of "Transmission" from 1979, as well as a 1988 Anton Corbijn-directed video for "Atmosphere" and -- slightly less so -- a 2007 video for "Shadowplay" by the Killers (a cover version from the movie's soundtrack album).

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Posted by cphillips at June 16, 2008 1:20 PM
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