There's a certain creepy allure to rock star biopics, especially ones that showcase a performer with hipster cult status like an Ian Curtis. Music fans usually attain satisfaction watching this kind of album jacket art representation. Curtis' dingy and tortured life recreated for us in a glorious nihilistic black and white grain pattern dozens of feet high and across on a white screen. We get to see Ian shirtless on his dingy bed smoking Rothman's and listening to Bowie's Hunky Dory, we follow him down the streets of the turd-like town of Macclesfield, “hate” emblazoned on his coat. It feels right; it is photography as iconic synthetic memories. We imagine we know this world because we have dreamt it, in our post punk wish-lives.
Control works pretty damn well as a testament to Joy Division. The photography is devastatingly beautiful. The director Corbijn, a photographer, and music video director, along with the German D.P. Martin Ruhe compose deceptively simple, stark tableaus. Newcomer Sam Riley as Ian Curtis is fucking amazing, and one of the stronger aspects of the film. Riley as Curtis live is an epiphany. We get to see the mesmerizing intensity of Joy Division through his presentation. The fact that the actors are performing these songs live, and that they capture a reasonable approximation of that sound is a true testament to Corbijn's pre-production and rehearsal process. The film never gets too analytical about its creation method or psyche. It shows us surface and stays away from too much verbal exposition which often drags down rock star flicks.
The film does drag down in the tortured relationship department. The triangle between Curtis, his wife, and a hot Belgian take up most of the film's second hour. It just goes on too long, and Ian gets too weepy, and way too emo. Even if this is accurate, it becomes laborious. Samantha Morton is fine as his dishrag of a wife, but it's not that interesting. The real Deborah Curtis co-produced and wrote the source material, and it's refreshing that she portrays herself in such an honest light. Honesty though doesn't always make for the most spectacular cinematic experience.
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