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Destiny Unfolding, and Slipping Away

Those familiar with the story of Ian Curtis may not be especially impressed by the revelations Control has to offer, but they should at least respect its visual style and painstaking attention to detail. Here, the physical and emotional collapse of the lead singer of the British post-punk group Joy Division is not so much witnessed as experienced through a series of stark, claustrophobic close-ups that reveal an increasingly unstable mess of a human being.

Rather than indulging in the lurid, hallucinatory tones that sometimes color tales of rock ’n’ roll suicide, first-time director Anton Corbijn, whose reputation as a photographer was bolstered by his collaborations with U2, David Bowie and Joy Division, chooses to shoot his debut in grainy black-and-white. It is a decision that effectively dates the material, and also emphasizes Curtis’s stark discomfort as he slowly withers in the glare of the spotlight.

Driven by an irresistible lust for fame, Curtis (Sam Riley) jumps at the chance to join the promising outfit initially known as Warsaw. He is tall and lanky, as bandmate Peter Hook (Joe Anderson) notes, and there is a mesmerizing quality to his manic, almost haunted stage presence. He can be gentle and soft-spoken when seducing his best friend’s girl, Debbie (Samantha Morton), but fierce and confrontational when dealing with industry types, including Mancurian music impresario Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson).

Wilson, you may recall, was the fast-talking subject of 24 Hour Party People -- a looser, more playful account of the turbulent era that gave rise to bands like Joy Division and the Sex Pistols. Control is something darker. It traces the rise and fall of a tortured artist whose fame and failing health drive him first to desperation, then to suicide. It's "Behind the Music" rendered with a minimum of crass sensationalism and an elegant sense of style. We’ve seen cautionary tales about the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle before, though rarely are they so ambitious.

That said, Curtis remains something of an enigma even in Corbijn’s final account. Based on Touching From a Distance, the 1995 memoir by Curtis’s ex-wife that detailed his drug abuse, extra-marital affairs and complicated battle with epilepsy, Control wrestles with a character who embodied few rock-star stereotypes but succumbed to most of the usual demons. It is matter-of-fact and sometimes less than insightful, but for fans of the dearly departed Joy Division vocalist -- which gave rise to the massively successful New Order -- it should be a compelling study of a man who, at long last, lost all semblance of control.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


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