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CONTROL(director: Anton Corbijn; screenwriters: Matt Greenhalgh/based on the book “Touching From a Distance” by Deborah Curtis; cinematographer: Martin Ruhe; editor: Andrew Hulme; cast: Sam Riley (Ian Curtis), Samantha Morton (Deborah Curtis), Alexandra Maria Lara (Annik Honoré), Joe Anderson (Hooky), James Anthony Pearson (Bernard Sumner), Harry Treadaway (Steve Morris), Craig Parkinson (Tony Wilson), Toby Kebbell (Rob Gretton), Matthew McNulty (Nick), Ben Naylor (producer, Martin Hannett); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Mr. Corbijn/ Orian Williams/Todd Eckert; Weinstein Company; 2007)
“Tells me more than I care to know about the ill-fated singer with a personality like talcum powder and songs fit to make the depressed even more depressed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Just another meditation of a would-be rock legend with great promise, who goes by the name of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley). He bites the dust before his dream of success is fulfilled, as this tribute film captures the last seven years of the rocker’s life before his suicide by hanging at age 23 and just before his increasingly popular band was to embark on its first American tour. He’s still remembered for such powerful brooding songs as — “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Isolation,” and “She’s Lost Control.”

Dutch-born and London-based celebrity music photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn helms in a bleak but lyrical manner that gets under the skin of his subject and tells me more than I care to know about the ill-fated singer with a personality like talcum powder and songs fit to make the depressed even more depressed (but, then again, I’m no fan of the punk rocker and not the target audience for this biopic). It’s based on the 1995 memoir “Touching From a Distance” by Deborah Curtis, who is the long-suffering widow of the featured punk rocker Ian Curtis, the lead singer for Joy Division (cutely named after a Nazi concentration camp brothel), known for his automatonic body gyrations, and tells all about her rotten marriage to the self-absorbed and womanizing rocker. The stunningly shot black-and-white film is written with some grace by Matt Greenhalgh.

It opens in 1973, when we meet the lanky wiseacre schoolboy Ian Curtis in his depressed hometown of Macclesfield, just outside of Manchester, and watch him steal his friend Nick’s girlfriend Debbie (Samantha Morton) and soon after he impulsively marries her. The lad digs smoking fags, is swept up in adoration of cultural proto-punk heroes such as David Bowie, Lou Reed, and J. G. Ballard and in a nod to higher culture he can also recite from memory William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” Soon Ian hooks up with an ongoing local band—Hooky (Joe Anderson) on bass, Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) on guitar and Steve Morris (Harry Treadaway) as the drummer—that needs a frontman, and through an aggressive manager, Rob Gretton, get booked on the popular local TV show run by the rock guru Tony Wilson where Ian sings “Transmission.” From thereon the band travels the circuit of playing in grimy basement clubs, and gains a loyal following.

To Corbijn’s credit he veers away from sentimentality and probing psychological explanations, and instead keeps his case study properly enigmatic as it records Ian’s strained relationship with his wife, his toddler, his Belgian journalist/translator girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara), his guilt-trip, his struggle for success and his struggle with epilepsy. By the film’s end, despite the sensitive treatment, he seemed like too many other lost souls fighting for celebrity or for something or other to hang their hat on and his story even though well-told failed to move me as it gives too many props to an unhealthy death-cult. Upon his demise, Ian’s band took the name New Order and marched on to success without their leader.

Newcomer Riley’s pleasing performance is a key to whatever success you might think the film achieved, as he makes the rocker more human and likable than he probably was in real-life (at least according to rock gossip) and, to boot, he’s a dead ringer as far as looks go.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”