When writers choose who to create biopics for, you have to believe that something interesting happened in their lives to warrant that choice. Martin Luther King, Johnny Cash, Mohammed Ali and many others give a flavour of the interesting lives people can lead that make for interesting movies. Control, the movie about tragic Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis, doesn’t instantly scream “interesting” or “movie-worthy.”
It doesn’t help that most people haven’t heard of the singer, or his band, and that outside of England and arguably Manchester, his music wouldn’t necessarily register interest. This is to be forgotten once the movie starts though and the complex and interesting life of the front-man begins.
It is difficult to really describe what happened in Ian Curtis’ life to hook the audience. There isn’t one huge moment or a great scene which transforms the character’s life and makes his story worthy of film treatment. It is more the character himself. Curtis was a tragic soul, someone who was plagued with both epilepsy and then subsequently depression. Not the most enlightening and uplifting of stories but one that is compelling to watch.
This is down to the great central performance by Sam Riley. Riley embodies Curtis well, both on and off-stage. He gets the mannerisms of the front-man’s performance when he was singing as part of Joy Division but also transforms back to a character who is much more restraint, quiet and in some cases difficult to relate to or even like.
For some this will be an issue. Curtis was not a “nice” person. He cheated on his wife and family, almost doomed his band to failure and made life difficult for those around him. The first half seems to be the rise of the star and then the second half his crashing downfall, causing many people to fall-out with the character and definitely turning the audience away from what made Curtis so appealing in the first place.
It does help that Curtis’ story is part of a wider music-story. The same era of music in both England, focused solely on Manchester, is captured well in 24 Hour Party People and as a companion to this movie, it tells a great story featuring some unbelievable characters (particularly Tony Wilson) and this also helps make the movie so interesting.
The story and the legend of the era can not stop the movie losing it’s way towards it’s conclusion. Once Curtis has begun to self-destruct, you find yourself waiting for the end rather than wondering what will happen next. Success is unfortunately more interesting for Curtis than the tragedy that marks the end of his life.
Overall, Control is a perfect example of how to create a movie about an interesting person rather than an interesting life. Aspects of Ian Curtis’ life is of course interesting, particularly those that cross-over with 24 Hour Party People but this movie is about a great performance, one that can’t quite sustain the whole story it’s run-time.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)