After decades of acclaimed rock-and-roll photography and music videos, it's not surprising that Anton Corbjin's first feature film is about a musician; what is surprising is how well-crafted, sympathetic and good Control ultimately is. Telling the life story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), the lead singer of Joy Division, Control hits all the notes that come as part and parcel of the musician's biographical film -- the dream, the rise, the fall -- but it also manages to find beauty and sadness in a story where we know the sad finale.
Control begins in 1973, as the young Ian Curtis lives among the council flats of Macclesfield, England -- listening to David Bowie, scrounging the occasional pill to pop, practicing applying eyeliner while wearing his sister's fun fur jacket. Something's out there -- a sense that pop culture has a place for the placeless -- and Curtis wants in. After a now-legendary Manchester Sex Pistols gig (where, as shown in the similarly-set but far breezier 24 Hour Party People, everyone in the small crowd apparently went out and started a band afterwards), Curtis runs into a group of three friends struggling to start a band -- "We'd be a lot less shite if we could find a singer who could actually sing." Curtis can't play a note on a guitar, but he's got the soul of a poet and -- just as importantly - the cheekbones of a fashion advert model, and soon Joy Division are playing local gigs that springboard them to international attention.