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Friday, October 26, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Control" | Not so jolly, but a good show nonetheless

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"Control," with Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Toby Kebbell, Craig Parkinson, Alexandra Maria Lara. Directed by Anton Corbijn,

from a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh, based on a memoir by Deborah Curtis. 121 minutes. Rated R for language and brief sexuality. Egyptian.

Films about doomed rock stars often portray their subjects as trapped, one way or another, by success. "Control," the story of Ian Curtis, suicidal lead singer and songwriter from the late-1970s post-punk British band Joy Division, is a little more complicated than that.

It's a stripped-down, literally black-and-white tale of an artist overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his command, as well as his personal guilt over conflicting feelings in matters of love. The film slowly gets under one's skin with its straightforward depiction of a young man caught between his passions and the quotidian.

The feature debut of photographer and music-video director Anton Corbijn (based on a memoir by Curtis' widow), "Control" suffers a bit from a touch of dry art-house-movie self-consciousness. But that's easily offset by the deeper soulfulness through which the film patiently reveals Curtis' full, almost oracular gifts and the cost of his ordinary burdens.

Little-known (at least in America) actor Sam Riley is remarkable as Curtis, whom we meet as a somewhat isolated Manchester teen inspired by David Bowie's glittery persona in the early '70s. Marrying his adolescent sweetheart, Deborah (Samantha Morton), and becoming a young father, Curtis finds work as a civil servant but spends nights singing with his future band mates in Joy Division.

Some viewers will note that Corbijn re-creates, in his own way, the same pivotal Sex Pistols concert in Manchester, 1976, that Michael Winterbottom captured in his highly entertaining 2002 dramedy "24 Hour Party People." It's a fun cross-reference that results in an alliance between Joy Division and Tony Wilson (Craig Parkinson), the well-meaning television-personality-turned-record-label-entrepreneur.

From there, the world should be Joy Division's oyster. But Curtis' struggles with epilepsy, a marriage he outgrows, a love affair with a journalist (Alexandra Maria Lara) and the increasing emotional rawness of his performances prove devastatingly wearing.

The very talented Morton might seem, on the surface, underutilized as the long-suffering Deborah. But she brings a full humanity and sympathy to a character that might be written off as collateral damage in other accounts of a rock star's rise and fall. A couple of other actors establish a powerful presence, too, especially Toby Kebbell as Joy Division's profane but wise manager.

Corbijn's portrait of Curtis is not of a rock idol lost to self-destruction but rather spiritual defeat — from a combination of bad luck and no-win ambivalence that could overwhelm many young adults.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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