While the surviving members of Joy Division, (Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner) went on to greater commercial success as New Order, Joy Division remains an enigma. After almost 28 years, it’s impossible to distinguish Joy Division as pioneers of the post punk movement from the exploits of their epileptic and depressed lead singer Ian Curtis. Curtis infamously hung himself on the eve of Joy Division’s first American tour in May 1980, another rock and roll twenty-something victim of suicide.
Director Anton Corbijn recreates Curtis’ struggles in Control, basing the script on the autobiography, Touching From a Distance by Curtis’ widow. The urban decay and paranoia of late 1970’s Manchester, England is conjured vividly from the film’s black and white imagery, a city that later gave birth to the “Madchester” scene in a decade’s time.
Sam Riley stars as Curtis, who as a young teen with a taste for Bowie and glam, later marries Debbie (Samantha Morton) and becomes a teenager father. While at a Sex Pistols show in Manchester, Curtis meets his musical brothers that will later be his Joy Division mates.
The live music shots are intense, as Riley nails the intense persona of Curtis where he wallows as the baritone voice front-man on stage and relives his confusing existence as a cheating husband while making sense of his own place in the world of an own emotional wasteland. Through the dramatic strengths of Riley shall not be overlooked, Control is a must see due to its riveting live performances, including dead-on versions of “Transmission” and “Dead Souls.” And in the highly regarded breakout performance of the year, Tony Kebbell steals the show as the band’s hard-nosed manger, Rob Gretton, who gets Joy Division noticed amongst a sea of doubters.
As affairs with a Belgian journalist and Curtis’s epileptic seizures begin to cramp his life as a husband and father, Curtis goes from blooming success to pending desolation. Divorcing his wife, Curtis eventually loses his artistic instincts in a downward spiral. In Control Corbijn allows the viewer to reconsider the life of Ian Curtis, as either a tragic figure or heroic front-man.