Combustible Celluloid
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With: Samantha Morton, Sam Riley, Alexandra Maria Lara, Joe Anderson, Toby Kebbell, Craig Parkinson, James Anthony Pearson, Harry Treadaway, Andrew Sheridan, Robert Shelly, Matthew McNulty, Ben Naylor
Written by: Matt Greenhalgh, based on a book by Deborah Curtis
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 121
Date: 05/17/2007

Control (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Tearing Us Apart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People (2002) touched briefly on the brilliant tragic career of Ian Curtis and his band Joy Division, but it was always a powerful subject deserving of its own film. Now acclaimed music video director Anton Corbijn (Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box," U2's "One," etc.) makes his feature debut with this two-hour biopic, and though it follows the usual biopic formula, Corbijn's stark, black-and-white widescreen visual scheme restores some of the story's real power.

Sam Riley makes a commanding Curtis, a brooding, intelligent young Manchester man looking for some creative outlet. He's so passionate that, as a teen, he impulsively marries Debbie (Samantha Morton) and has a baby long before his music takes off (he toils daily at an employment agency throughout most of the film). His intense songs and frighteningly direct stage performances endear him to audiences, but money is still tight and he falls for another woman, Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara). On top of which, he suffers from occasional epileptic fits.

After two great albums (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and a smattering of singles(including the iconic "Love Will Tear Us Apart"), Curtis hangs himself at age 23 just before the band's first U.S. tour. It's a familiar rockstar movie arc, and we've seen it all before. Morton is top-billed but only barely saves the role of the waiting, worrying wife, while the three other band members barely register any personality at all. Nevertheless, Corbijn brings Control to life with Riley's great performance, his vivid re-capturing of the band's live shows (they sound real, as opposed to pre-recorded) and a few, precious, lingering moments of sadness. Music from the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks are also on the soundtrack.

The DVD release from Miriam (The Weinstein Company), comes with a commentary track by director Corbijn, a making-of featurette (23 minutes), an interview with Corbijn (13 minutes), extended live concert performances from the film ("Transmission," "Leaders of Men" and "Candidate"), promos for other music-related films, stills and promotional items. The best part is an original BBC "video" of "Transmission" from 1979, as well as a 1988 Anton Corbijn-directed video for "Atmosphere" and -- slightly less so -- a 2007 video for "Shadowplay" by the Killers (a cover version from the movie's soundtrack album).

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