Thursday, 16 August 2007

EIFF: Control- Review by Emma J Lennox

Director: Anton Corbijn
Screenwriter: Matt Greenhalgh
Runtime: 123min
EIFF Screenings:
Fri 17 Aug 19:00 Cineworld
Sun 19 Aug 21:40 Cineworld

You don't have to be a Joy Division fan to become entranced by Ian Curtis' on stage presence or jarring vocals. After his suicide in 1980, hindsight cast a darker edge on their already macabre and desolate sound, making an enigma of the man and his lyrics and raising the question; who was this tragic figure? First time feature director, but long favoured music photographer, Anton Corbijn is attempting to discover the man behind the musician, in his biopic, Control. Already it has received good critical responses with Corbijn collecting the Golden Camera at Cannes, and as the last project of the innovative Tony Wilson, credited as co-producer who sadly passed away on 10 August, Control seems placed for historical relevance.

Based on the book Touching From a Distance by Curtis' wife, Deborah, the film strains to be an honest portrayal of the singer; from his Wordsworth quoting, Bowie inspired teenage days to his death at the age of 23. Actor and former front man, Sam Riley takes on the lead role in an able bodied performance which although sustains credibility throughout, doesn't kick off until the man walks on stage. A ripple of excitement is obvious through the audience when twenty minutes in, the battering drums and reverberating bass line combines on the soundtrack for the first time. Aesthetically, Corbijn is influenced by a post punk look and he shoots in a beautifully grainy black and white stock, reminiscent of the era's album covers. But most impressive are the stage reenactments which capture pitch perfect the electrifying and reckless force of Joy Division's sets, including Curtis with all his gestures and potent anxiety .

Off stage, however, the narrative weakens. There is an emotional disconnect, perhaps carved by Deborah Curtis' limited perspective, that doesn't combine the husband/father with the self loathing found in his music. The problems of Curtis' home life equate to an average melodrama of prescribed drugs and a love triangle, but there is no real insight to the pain that propelled his depression. The symptoms of epilepsy are depicted well but his alleged mania is reduced to a psychological shorthand, giving only a stilted impression of events. What makes Control significant is also what makes it disappointing. With a compelling character as its subject, Control will always draw interest, but in comparison to Curtis' own powerful performances it fails to live up to the destructive hero's complex vulnerability.

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