Control’s sadly inevitable conclusion is a rare, emotive scene that only the most perfectly constructed biopic can convey.
Biopics always have the potential to be unsatisfactory tributes; the wider debate over the truth and the tendency for the central figure to be deified. This is particularly true of rock star tributes. Even Oliver Stone’s relatively accomplished depiction of The Doors (and in spite of Val Kilmer’s powerful interpretation) focused more on Jim Morrison’s rock and roll antics rather than the true figure behind the famed public persona.
Under the guidance of Anton Corbijn, such a scenario was never going to arise. His connection with Ian Curtis and Joy Division as both a fan and a photographer is important; Control has a sensitivity of understanding that doesn’t seek to trivialise events that other films of a similar nature have done. The result is that Control isn’t so much the story of Joy Division’s rise to prominence, but an integral part of Ian Curtis’s wider life – a life that also encompassed complexities that arose from love, family and his battles with epilepsy.
In the hands of Corbijn, Control was always destined to look fantastic. As colourful as monochromatic film can be, the film’s visuals evoke the best of the director’s rock photography. It also marks this representation of recent history with a degree of separation that more obviously glossy works, with their period touches nullified by a strikingly contemporary palette, can’t touch upon.
Sam Riley’s account of Ian Curtis is impressive. He looks the part, sounds similar and has enough well studied nuances to convince in his wider acting ability. Riley occasionally looks a touch too eager to impress with his attempts at recreating Curtis’s distinctive stage movements, but his potential as both an actor and a vocalist is strongly evident. Elsewhere Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara feature with understated style as Curtis’s wife Debbie and lover Annik respectively. Control has the grace not to judge them beyond their love for Ian Curtis. Meanwhile, some comical touches in the first half of the film, particularly from Toby Kebbell as manager Rob Gretton, lighten the necessarily bleak conclusion.
For all of Ian Curtis’ problems, Control still makes it hard to understand his suicide. Perhaps that’s the film’s strongest attribute, for suicide is a matter that those left behind can’t truly comprehend, despite it being, we can only assume, an overwhelming necessity for the protagonist.
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