Somber, sad and compelling, Ian Curtis biopic is a riveting, visually arresting portrait of a soul in torment.

Ian Curtis - Sam Riley Debbie Curtis - Samantha Morton Tony Wilson - Craig Parkinson Annik Honore - Alexandra Maria Lara Hooky - Joe Anderson Bernard Summer - James Anthony Pearson Rob Gretton - Toby Kebbell Steve Morris - Harry Treadway Terry - Andrew Sheridan Twinny - Robert Shelly

Somber, sad and compelling, Ian Curtis biopic “Control,” about the lead singer of the ’80s post-punk Blighty band Joy Division, is a riveting, visually arresting portrait of a tormented soul. Sam Riley gives a winning perf in the central role and is surrounded by a strong ensemble of thesps. First feature helming bow by photographer Anton Corbijn manages to present working-class Northern England in a wide range of appealing grays that make the description “black-and-white film” inadequate. Widely anticipated by the band’s legion of fans, pic is assured a warm welcome and a successful worldwide tour.

Pic spans from 1973, when Curtis was a teenager, to his suicide in 1980, just prior to what was expected to be a successful U.S. tour. Auds familiar with Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People” will recognize overlapping events covered in that biopic of Manchester music entrepreneur Tony Wilson (here played by Craig Parkinson, but thesped by Steve Coogan in the earlier pic).

Popular on Variety

Despite some amusing moments, the tone of this pic is considerably less lighthearted. It makes a fitting eulogy not just for Curtis, but for his ill-fated marriage to Deborah Curtis, whose memoir is the chief source for this heartfelt, anguished film.

At pic’s beginning, Hamlet-like teenager Ian Curtis, curled up in his bedroom, is already contemplating reasons for existence. Experimenting with pharmaceutical drugs and possessed by a desire to write poetry and song lyrics, Curtis lives in a David Bowie-lined cocoon, isolated from his family and the world. Something about a friend’s g.f. Debbie (Samantha Morton), however, reveals the butterfly within, and Ian quickly makes a play for her, with a devotion that rapidly leads to wedding bells.

Between love at first sight and marriage, Curtis attends (with Debbie glued to his side) a historic, sparsely attended Sex Pistols gig and inveigles himself into the position of lead vocalist of a singerless band that later will be called Joy Division.

Pic follows the well-known arc of rising pop stars outgrowing the conventional life of those around them, but Corbijn never loses sight of, or becomes indifferent to, Debbie’s pain in being deceived or left behind.

The tug of war between husband and wife is depicted fairly, but (unsurprisingly given the source material), the distress of the often monosyllabic, and frequently epileptic Ian is occasionally eclipsed by Morton’s astonishing, sympathetic performance as his suffering wife.

Nevertheless, Riley is likewise stunning. Except for the film’s opening and final reels, which grant him a voiceover, Riley’s portrayal is like a series of snapshots of different people: gentle, selfish, uncaring, ambitious. Riley is able to fashion these disparate personalities into a psychologically fractured but dramatically cohesive whole.

Supporting cast is strong, with Tony Kebbell standing out as Joy Division manager Rob Gretton, who provides comic relief and ruthless business acumen at the same time. In an indication of the script’s fairness, Alexandra Maria Lara is allowed a sympathetic turn as Curtis’ Belgian lover Annik.

Corbijn’s helming presents a visual rhapsody of grays and largely abstains from the artiness that plagues most snappers-cum-directors. Use of Joy Division songs (some re-performed by thesps playing the band) to illustrate the drama is well-informed and well-executed. Sound quality is excellent throughout, from musical concerts to Debbie’s shrill screams.



Production: A Becker Intl. (Australia) presentation of a Northsee Ltd (U.K.) production, in association with EM Media (U.K.)/IFF, CINV, 3 Dogs and a Pony (Japan)/Warner Music (U.K.). (International sales: Becker Films Intl., Sydney.) Produced by Orian Williams, Anton Corbijn, Todd Eckert. Executive producers, Iain Canning, Akira Ishii, Korda Marshall, Lizzie Francke. Co-producers, Peter Heslop, Deborah Curtis, Tony Wilson. Directed by Anton Corbijn. Screenplay, Matt Greenhalgh, based on the book "Touching From the Distance" by Deborah Curtis.

Crew: Camera (B&W), Martin Ruhe; editor, Andrew Hulme; music, New Order; production designer, Chris Richmond; sound (Dolby Digital) Peter Baldock. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight -- opener), May 17, 2007. Running time: 121 MIN.

With: Ian Curtis - Sam Riley Debbie Curtis - Samantha Morton Tony Wilson - Craig Parkinson Annik Honore - Alexandra Maria Lara Hooky - Joe Anderson Bernard Summer - James Anthony Pearson Rob Gretton - Toby Kebbell Steve Morris - Harry Treadway Terry - Andrew Sheridan Twinny - Robert Shelly

More Film

  • Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

    'Captain Marvel' Sequel in Development

    Disney has officially launched development of a “Captain Marvel” sequel. The studio is in final negotiations with Megan McDonnell, a staff writer on Marvel-based series “WandaVision” on the project. The 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” starred Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. Disney and Marvel have not yet set a release date [...]

  • Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs

    Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs, Joel Kinnaman Action Movie 'The Informer' in Limbo

    Fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures has been hit with a significant staff reduction less than a month after the removal of top executive WIlliam Sadleir, numerous insiders told Variety.  Almost half of a staff of 30 were dismissed last week, amid wide rumors that the company’s deep-pocketed financier Black Rock has defunded the outfit entirely, sources [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Bill Clinton

    Harvey Weinstein's Lawyer Seeks Mistrial When D.A. Refers to Bill Clinton Friendship

    Harvey Weinstein was associated with the Clintons for years, socially and as a generous donor to both of their political campaigns. And according to prosecutors in Weinstein’s criminal trial, he bragged about his friendship with the former president to women he allegedly sexually assaulted, in an effort to intimidate them. During opening statements on Wednesday, [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum to Star in 'Bob the Musical' Comedy for Disney

    Channing Tatum is attached to star in and produce “Bob the Musical” for Disney — a project that’s been in development for more than a decade. Tatum will produce through his company, Free Association, and partners Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan. Tripp Vinson and Chris Bender are also attached to produce. No director is currently [...]

  • John Henry

    'John Henry': Film Review

    Terry Crews’ John Henry is a man of few words. “John Henry,” the folklore-cribbing, violent thriller (opening theatrically and available on demand) about a former gang member who must face his demons when two young immigrants require his help, feels like it wants to say a lot. But what exactly? Utilizing horror-movie gestures and ladling [...]

  • Matt Damon SNL

    Matt Damon to Star in NYPD Thriller 'The Force'

    Matt Damon has come on board to star in “The Force” with James Mangold directing for Disney’s 20th Century Studios. Mangold, who directed Damon in “Ford v. Ferrari,” has been developing the Don Winslow bestseller since 2017. “The Force” centers on corrupt NYPD officers with Damon attached to play detective Denny Malone, who runs an [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein female juror

    Novelist Who Wrote About Predatory Men Stays on Harvey Weinstein Jury

    A novelist who has an upcoming book about predatory older men in New York will remain on the Harvey Weinstein jury, despite vociferous objections from the defense. Juror #11 showed up to opening statements on Wednesday, and sat through the full day of trial. Weinstein’s defense had argued last Friday that she should be removed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content