Starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Craig Parkinson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, Toby Kebbell, James Anthony Pearson, Harry Treadaway, Matthew McNulty, Andrew Sheridan, Robert Shelly, Richard Bremmer and Tanya Myers.
Screenplay by Deborah Curtis and Matt Greenhalgh.
Directed by Anton Corbijn.
Distributed by The Weinstein Co. 121 minutes. Rated R.
Joy Division was a rather legendary band in Europe. However, they never really broke through to an American audience except for some pretentious music journalists (myself included) who heard the band’s posthumous single, the disturbing, bleak and undeniably beautiful “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and started trumpeting the band as one of the great lost chances for truly transcendent music.
They certainly did have a dramatic story. Made up of five working class lads who worshipped Bowie and Iggy, the group came of age in the murky urban wasteland of Manchester. The band formed after the guys sat through a Sex Pistols show together. Slowly but surely the band’s bleak and introspective anthems gained a following. On the eve of the band’s first American tour, lead singer and songwriter Ian Curtis hung himself. He was 23.
The band also had other interesting personnel. Of course the face of the band was the tortured genius, but the rest of the band went on to form groundbreaking 80s dance-rock band New Order.
Curtis was a brilliant contradiction. He was at once overly sensitive and staggeringly selfish, loving and dismissive, lusting after fame and scared to death of it.
Ian Curtis’ tragic life and premature death is not new to film – it made up a significant portion of Michael Winterbottom’s Tony Wilson bio-movie 24 Hr. Party People and also was the subject of a wonderful recent documentary named after his band.
Filmed in gorgeous, moody black and white by rock-photographer-turned-auteur Anton Corbijn – who was one of the first photographers to capture the up-and-coming band – and co-written by Curtis’ widow Debbie (based on her book), Control is a love song to a man who was too battered and depressed to write a straight love song himself.
Curtis, who while he was creating the band found out that he was an epileptic, was in a constant search for control in his life. When inevitably it eluded him, he would sink into alcohol-fueled depression. His lack of control was made symbolic in his seizures, but it extended into all areas of his life. He loved his wife (Samantha Morton) and daughter – and yet could not bring himself to end a long affair with a Belgian rock journalist named Annik Honore (Alexandra Maria Lara). The more popular his band became, the less say he had in what happened to it. Suddenly he had to continue to perform – at a point where it felt like he was rending himself with each performance – for fear of letting down the band, the record company, the manager, the audience.
There is genuine pathos and suspense in watching the man’s meteoric rise and spectacular fall – even when we know full well how it all comes out.
One slight complaint in a mostly wonderful film. Perhaps there are some personal grudges being aired here. I don’t know for a fact that there is this animosity between Debbie Curtis and the rest of her late husband’s band, but they do come off looking a little jerky. In particular, bassist Peter Hook comes off looking like a hooligan and future New Order leader Bernard Sumner seems like a complete wanker. It may even be true, however, if you watch this film together with the Joy Division documentary – which has full cooperation of the band members and also interviews film characters like other woman Annik Honore and flamboyant Factory Records owner Tony Wilson – then you will be able to get a pretty all-encompassing view of a complicated, doomed man and his heartrending art.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 20, 2008.