Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton
If you love Joy Division as much as me – tattoos and all – then this film is an absolute must-see. I’ve seen this biopic before, and that single viewing was enough to know that I don’t need to see any other Joy Division biopic. Watching again, I was reminded that this is not just a great biopic but it’s actually one of my most highly-rated films of all time.
Filming strictly in black and white, Anton Corbijn recreates the short-lived rise to fame of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Curtis is one of those rare lead singers who become so much more than that – he WAS Joy Division. He’s an icon and a genius, but his story is a tragic one. Just as with so many talented musicians, Ian Curtis’ life was ended prematurely by suicide, and ‘Control’ takes on the heavy burden of paying homage to his years in the spotlight.
As Ian Curtis, Sam Riley impeccably conveys the on-stage presence of the Joy Division poster boy; from the legendary dance moves to the sweaty, gangly appearance. On paper, Ian Curtis should have looked like a mess, but he had a charisma and passion which overruled everything else and made him a star. Riley nails the enigmatic air of power and über-confident attitude of Curtis, along with the sallow-skinned, gaunt look which became so recognisable. Opposite Riley, Samantha Morton gives us an incredibly authentic portrayal of desperation, as wife Debbie, which tugs on the heart strings. As an audience we feel for poor Debbie and her baby; we wish Ian would do right by them, but at the same time we understand why he struggles with life at home. Also in the mix is Toby Kebbell (you may recognise him as Doctor Doom from last year’s ‘Fantastic Four’ movie), who plays the role of Rob Gretton, the band’s Jack-the-lad, wheeler-dealer manager, with a spot of comic relief amidst the sombre tone of the rest of the film.
Aesthetically, the film is a real beauty to watch, and the decision to do the whole thing in black and white is a masterstroke; perfectly capturing the bands rise to fame through television appearances. With sharp contrasts of shadows and light in abundance, and an eerily alluring bleak palette, the film has a staggering level of authenticity, and by no means is the black and white aspect used gratuitously. As for musical accompaniment, you can’t go far wrong with the mellow, gothic tones of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Transmission’. Passionate, energetic on-stage performances are riveting to watch and make me wish I was alive to see the real thing; but ‘Control’ is good enough for me.
If you’re a fan of Joy Division, what are you waiting for? Watch ‘Control’ right now, even if you’ve seen it before. This isn’t the kind of film you can just casually watch, and it is most certainly not for everyone; the black and white palette, deep, emotional themes and macabre tracklist won’t interest the average moviegoer. But for anyone who invests themselves wholeheartedly into this film, you’re in for a real treat.