Movies We Like
When 24 Hour Party People came out, I overheard a lot of dour Raincoat types leaving the theater expressing their wish that whole film had been about Ian Curtis and not those awful acid house Blue Tuesdays or whatever was going on after Ian Curtis' death, at which point their lot zoned out 'til the credits. I thought of how awful that would be - a film about Joy Division. Biopics are always so suspect. Myth-making, made-for-cable garbage with chest-beating and hammy impressions instead of acting... you know, the kind of thing the Oscars are made of. Thankfully, Control is not like that.
Control is directed by Anton Corbijn, which I didn't know till the end. Whatever you think of the guys videos, he has an eye for arresting (if sometimes comically dour) imagery. He's also Dutch and therefore a natural fit for Joy Division’s world which is black and white and eternally wintery, even in the summer – like World War II movies.
As far as plot, Corbijn thankfully sticks to the facts which fans will recognize from the myth that has been passed down over the years. Control is so restrained and remote that it’s more like a well-made police procedural than your average music bio.
For those that know a little about the characters of the late ‘70s Manchester scene there's actually a lot of fun to be had. Sadly, Martin Hannett is barely there. Craig Parkinson as Tony Wilson seems to have absorbed Steve Coogan’s portrayal of the same man. Toby Kebbell plays Rob Gretton as a self-promoting, slightly salesman-like guy who is nonetheless honest, loyal and charming. Sam Riley plays Ian Curtis as sweet, sensitive, selfish, self-absorbed, and lovable despite his weak will.
Samantha Morton as Deborah Curtis is maybe the biggest revelation. Amongst Joy Division fans, Deborah Curtis is widely vilified a nagging hag who cashed in on Ian’s death with her at times unflattering portrayal of her husband in the book the film is largely based upon. Suffering wives of adulterous rock stars are nearly always made out to be unsympathetic, nagging annoyances. They’re always crying and looking unsexy, their teeth are yellow, they wear housecoats all the time and they just don't understand that their husbands are like wild horses that will maybe come into the pen for a nibble, but can never be fenced in by one woman.
The uniformly good acting, writing and directing allows all the film’s characters to all be flawed yet likable, victims caught up in web of their own weaving.