Staff Writer Tom Skelton offers his take on the biopic “Control,” an unusual and stark account of the life and death of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis.

Blending elements of a traditional biopic with unique artistic sensibilities, “Control” to create an extraordinarily deep portrayal of its main character, Ian Curtis and his band, Joy Division. The film begins by following Curtis (Sam Reily) as he is discovered by band mates Peter Hook (Joe Anderson), Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson), and Stephan Morris (Harry Treadway), and courts his future wife Deborah (Samantha Morton). As the band’s success grows, Curtis struggles with epilepsy and finds a new love, exotic Belgian writer Annik (Alexandra Maria Lara).

Sam Reily effectively portrays Curtis’ notoriously cold character, his sense of camaraderie with the band, and his love for his wife. Reily also successfully shows Curtis’s struggle with epilepsy. The audience feels Curtis’ palpable sense of loss as he tries to adjust to drugs, only increasing his feelings of loneliness and alienation. Reily, generates an extraordinary amount of sympathy as the movie moves to its ultimate conclusion. Subtlety is Reily’s forte, and his ability to make slight adjustments to Ian’s character guides him through the narrative.

The supporting cast, however, leaves much to be desired. Curtis’ band mates are portrayed as cliché at best and add very little to either his character or the movie as a whole. Morton does a good job playing Curtis’ caring first love and Lara plays the exotic mistress role well. Neither goes beyond their assigned roles though, and this is the films biggest flaw; after Reily’s strong performance, there is little that the plot can stand on.


Director Anton Corbijn’s style is what makes this movie truly special. The use of black and white adds to the melancholic air of the Manchester setting and mirrors the bipolar nature of Curtis’ life – at times he could appear extremely passionate, and at times very distant.

Another of the film’s best stylistic features is the holding of a shot a second or two longer than would normally seem necessary. These lapses create a symbolic tension between the audience and the film. The audience feels estranged from the film in the same way that most people would feel estranged from Curtis. The director uses these times lapses in especially visceral scenes, such as a baby’s crib, or the rope which Curtis eventually used to hang himself.

Overall, “Control” is a haunting, uncomfortable, but ultimately realistic look into the life a sad and complex artist. Life long Joy Division fans and novices alike will appreciate the movie for both its depth and honesty.