Corbijn’s “Control” A Stand-Out Biopic

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis.
R, 122 minutes, The Weinstein Company

There is always speculation and a healthy amount of reluctance when any kind of biopic is looking to go into production, with worries of whether or not the easy wrong turns could be made and thus failing to do the subject rightful justice on screen. However, when it comes to musician stories specifically, despite all the reluctance and whatnot, the fact is that it’s an inevitable thing that they will all eventually be made, and luckily they have paid off into respectful films over the last few years. Hollywood in particular has found it to be a mission to grind out at least one legendary musicians biopic a year now, at least it seems that way, because films like Ray and Walk the Line are automatic Oscar bait. What we haven’t seen all that much is the independent perspective of a biopic, but it was certainly the point of view necessary for Control, a film showing us the fast rising and even faster crumbling world of Joy Division’s chief creator, Ian Curtis. Anton Corbijn, the widely appreciated music video director and photographer, was very much an ideal choice to adapt Deborah Curtis’ autobiography into a film. Not only was Corbijn an early collaborator with Joy Division on music videos and stills, he has a deep understanding and appreciation for the passion behind the tunes and words that Curtis poured from inside. Knowing the band personally is essentially the big factor that made Control such an authentic and respectful piece of film to experience, I’m assuming staying extremely true to Ian’s widow’s book of recollections.

Beginning in the early years of the 70’s while Ian was still in high school, Control takes the right steps in letting the audience become a part of the young man’s life and his surroundings. From the beginning on, the entire process gets a chance to breathe and never treats its subject like he’s something larger than life, like he is some “rock star” with overblown, limelight production that would make us feel like we are too small and underprivileged to actually know him. Whatever the budget on films like this may be, whether they be on the Hollywood or independent level of cinema, it is a make or break situation in the choice of casting the lead role, for no matter how sharpened the research or how well a film executes its storytelling, if the lead performer is not up to par in creating a believable resurrection of the subject, all will drop to failure immediately. In this film, arguably more than any other biopic I have ever seen, the lead actor not only completely embodies the main subject, but could easily pass for an identical twin of Ian Curtis, or more realistically, his unknown son. There are no adjectives or phrases or praises that could do Sam Riley’s performance in this film enough justice, and although he was rightfully rewarded at small film festivals upon the movie’s release, it will have to be seen in time if his portrayal will be recognized among the best in the history of the biopic. Corbijn shot the entire movie in black and white, and the sharpness of that combined with his stunning eye for the right angle at the right time, make the movie that much more of a singular experience.

Playing the true heart and soul and grounding figure in Ian’s life, Debbie Curtis, is the vastly underrated Samantha Morton in another strong performance. Marrying him and having a child at a very early age with Ian, Debbie stands strong, faithful and hopeful throughout all of the times, no matter if they were good (which there were plenty of) or scary (hearing of Ian’s epileptic fits while on the road) or awful (dealing with Ian’s affair stints with a foreign woman). The entire cast is extremely good all around in this film, but it is Riley and Corbijn’s passion to respect the humanity and vulnerability of Curtis, that makes Control a masterpiece and one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time, ranking with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Atonement. If you’ve been a Joy Division fan for some time, they you already understand just how tragic the circumstances were that surrounded the demise of the troubled Curtis, but even for those who had little to no knowledge of the man’s story or the music beforehand, watching this film will both make you believe in true and honest filmmaking, as well as make you want to dig deeper into the work of Curtis and Joy Division. This film is alive and well, as if to say “I am not a movie, I am reality”. It’s the closest thing to reality as a biopic could possibly be.

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