Anton Corbijn | 2007 | 121 min | UK
Director Anton Corbijn is partially responsible for creating the iconography of Joy Division, so it is perhaps fitting that he helms Control, the story of singer Ian Curtis. The film is shot in muted black and white, recalling the most familiar images of Joy Division out there, and Corbijn frames many of the shots as portraiture. The problem with the film is that's as penetrating and insightful as it ever gets.
The film covers a very short period of a very short life. We are given a couple brief looks at Ian as a schoolboy and his initial courtship with wife Debbie, but the vast majority of the film is reserved from the time he joins Warsaw (soon to be Joy Division). That makes for a very thin story. Though we get the greatest hits of his physical and emotional illness and estrangement from his wife, we get little information as to what motivates any of it. His family and background are treated as the most minor concerns. Or maybe all we need to know is that those David Bowie records were the problem?
The cast is capable, but not outstanding. Sam Riley does a very good job affecting the jittery stage movements and sullen faces of Curtis, and Samantha Morton does a wonderful job as Debbie. She is too wonderful, in fact. Morton is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Almost inevitably Control will be compared to 2002's 24 Hour Party People (in which Riley played the role of Mark E. Smith), and Control just does not cut it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the duel portrayals of Tony Wilson. Craig Parkinson is absolutely no match for 24 Hour's Steve Coogan.
Obviously Curtis lead an interesting life and perhaps there is still a story in there worth telling, but Corbijn distills everything down to Joy Division fandom, and there is not enough in that brief period to make for much of a feature. There are some good moments, and it looks beautiful, but Control is not a film I can recommend. Fans of Joy Division will appreciate it more than others, but don't expect much more than a glorified music video.