'Control' is a truly extraordinary account of the life and times of Ian Curtis, lead singer of seminal post-punk band Joy Division. Based on the memoir 'Touching from a Distance' by his widow Deborah, it gives a closer look at the troubled singer's life, from his struggle with epilepsy to his marital problems.
Directed by renowned photographer Anton Corbijn, the film is shot in high contrast monochrome, which works on many levels. It complements the social realism of the film and the bleakly beautiful music of Joy Division, while also lending Manchester's drab streets a dignified grandeur.
The story begins in Macclesfield in 1973. We see a teenage Curtis (Riley) posing in front of his bedroom mirror, smearing eyeliner and adopting Bowie-esque poses. He is a daydreamer and a romantic, and soon after catching the eye of Debbie (Morton), his friend's girlfriend, he is proclaiming his love for her. They marry and move into a terraced house, while Curtis gets work in the local unemployment benefit office.
But he has a different future in mind for himself, and after becoming inspired at a legendary Sex Pistols concert, becomes the front man of a singer-less band, who are to become Joy Division.
As the band's profile escalates, with TV appearances and a signing to Tony Wilson's Factory Records, Curtis becomes increasingly alienated from his pregnant wife and life in dreary Macclesfield. He vainly tries to juggle his home life with gigging and recording with the band. After beginning a passionate affair with beautiful Belgian embassy worker Annik Honore (Lara) his marriage disintegrates further.
Debbie uncovers his infidelities and tells him she wants a divorce. Following this, and on the eve of Joy Division's first American tour, he hangs himself, at the age of 23. The increasing severity of his epileptic fits, his belief that the condition will only continue to worsen and the breakdown of his marriage are shown to be factors in his suicide.
In keeping with the tastefulness of the film, the audience are distanced from the suicide. Corbijn has not made a dramatic or overblown version of the events; instead he conveys it as realistically as possible.
Newcomer Sam Riley is utterly convincing as Curtis. It is a wholly unforced performance, as he mirrors Curtis' onstage moves seemingly effortlessly. He succeeds in capturing Curtis' raw energy and uninhibited, jerky dancing. Coupled with classic Joy Division songs such as 'Transmission' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', it is a nerve tingling treat for fans of their music.
Samantha Morton puts in a sympathetic, understated performance as long suffering Deborah, while Toby Kebbell is outstanding as Rob Gretton, the band's hilarious and foulmouthed manager.
Crucially, this film does not attempt to make a rock god of Curtis. We see his vulnerability, sensitivity, weaknesses and painful estrangement. It is also not entirely grim, with moments of deadpan Mancunian wit that give the film great depth. 'Control' is a fitting homage to a troubled star that will long be remembered for his contribution to music.