“Control,” Anton Corbjin’s exquisite feature debut, is restrained, melancholy and gorgeous, a matter-of-fact collection of the facts of the life of 23-year-old Ian Curtis, frontman for the band Joy Division, who hanged himself in 1979. Sam Riley is the actor who plays Curtis, and it’s one of the great, great performances of the year. The fearful, vulnerable expressions that inhabit Riley’s face: the weight of two worlds, bourgeois and bohemian, resting upon his skinny shoulders, and atop that, the advancing symptoms of epilepsy (or the cocktail of drugs poured to stem them). It’s a performance of immense physicality: you can read these things into his expressions. But the musical performances, the numbers played live by the actors, are shocking in their simple, volatile shape. Riley’s Ian Curtis is a man who moves to shake the life, his essence, from himself. Not only does it convince as an embodiment of Curtis, but as the loss of control that performing artists sometimes seek. What is as transforming, as transcendent, as rising into a different physicality? (Some say now the saints and sages starved themselves to explore inner space.) Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe shoot in black-and-white widescreen, often in the very spaces and places where Curtis lived and worked and sang, and the pared-down decors suggest not only the poverty of the Manchester area in the 1970s, but offer objects the weight of icons: a Bowie poster, three binders on a desk—lyrics/stories/novels—a curtain in a window. Love tore him apart. “Control” brings him together again. The score, appropriately, is by New Order, who were members of Joy Division. Toby Kebell, as their manager, is a profane scene-stealer, alongside Samantha Morton as the salt-of-the-earth mother of Curtis’ daughter. “Control” is one of the year’s best. 121m. Anamorphic widescreen. (Ray Pride) MUSIC BOX
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.