Review by gloria wong.
For his feature film debut, photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn wisely chose familiar ground. As the ‘eye’ for New Music Express (and also bigger rags like Spin and Rolling Stone) from the late 70’s on, Corbijn was around for the real thing when Joy Division burst onto Manchester’s thrilling (post-)punk scene (also dramatized in the very different though extremely entertaining 24-Hour Party People). Based on the book "Touching From a Distance", Control is the story of the remarkable singer-songwriter Ian Curtis, his rise to fame with Joy Division, and sudden suicide at age 23 in 1980 (widow Deborah wrote the book and served as a producer on the film).
Like most any biopic of a famous songwriter, Control has requisite scenes of Curtis' personal life turmoil, turning real life situations into poetry, and putting depressing songs into their depressing contexts. But several things make this film feel fresh – not the least of which is its gorgeous, high-contrast black and white cinematography; the film is quite impossible to look away from, filled with images that are simultaneously beautiful and raw, perfectly composed but with the immediacy and intimacy of a great snapshot.
Performances are also impressive all around. Relative unknown Sam Riley (himself a singer) is entrancing as Curtis. He doesn’t just mimick Curtis’ distinctive stage presentation (which, if you’re too young to remember or never cared to learn, was the desperate, gangly progenitor of Michael Stipe’s bad dancing in the “Losing My Religion” video), but really embodying Curtis’ ambiguity about success and love, as well as his wide-eyed disbelief in the world coming up around him. (Joy Division went from first gig to ready-to-take-over-America in about two years). Riley also does an impressive job of singing all the performance scenes himself. Though his voice lacks Curtis’ eerie, deep resonance, it’s a remarkable facsimile that adds another layer of realism to the film. Samantha Morton does a typically fine turn as Curtis’ widow Deborah. And, despite the sadness that surrounds the Joy Division story, there are wonderful moments of tossed-off humour that remind us that so many of these mythologized figures were barely into their twenties when they hit big.
Anton Corbijn | UK/Australia/Japan | 2007 | 121min
Fri. Sept. 28 | 9:00pm | Empire Granville Theatre
Sat. Sept. 29 | 2:30pm | Empire Granville Theatre