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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Anton Corbijn
scr Matt Greenhalgh
with Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Alexandra Maria Lara, Toby Kebbell, Craig Parkinson, Harry Treadaway, Joe Anderson, James Anthony Pearson, Andrew Sheridan, Matthew McNulty, Richard Bremner, Nicola Harrison
release US 26.Sep.07, UK 5.Oct.07
Young love: Riley and Morton (above); Riley, Pearson, Treadaway and Hook as Joy Division (below)
Produced by Deborah Curtis, and based on her book, this strikingly well-made film covers the last seven years in the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. It's somewhat wallowing and repetitive, but it's so wonderfully acted, directed, written and shot that we're utterly gripped.
On a soulless housing estate in 1973 Macclesfield, Ian (Riley) is a lanky 16-year-old who swipes his best friend's girlfriend, Debbie (Morton). When he hears that a local pub band needs a vocalist, he joins Stephen, Peter and Bernard (Treadaway, Anderson and Pearson) to form what would eventually become Joy Division. Their fame grows, thanks to their colourful manager (Kebbell) and biggest fan Tony Wilson (Parkinson), who signs them in blood to his Factory label. But Ian finds it impossible to juggle marriage to Debbie with attraction for a groupie (Lara). And he's also neglecting his epilepsy.
Curtis' story is rather typical in the pop star pantheon: a gifted young man whose talent burned so brightly that he drifted into a life of destructive excess, dying far too young in a completely preventable way. The similarities between Curtis and Jim Morrison are unmistakeable, although Curtis' physical condition adds a level of tragedy that transcends addiction. According to this film, he was also a confused young man incapable of clearly thinking through his decisions.
Riley is revelatory in the role, creating such a sympathetic character that we viscerally feel every moment he's on screen. This immersion into the role is reminiscent of Leo DiCaprio; we experience his soulful, haunted inner turmoil in a way that goes far beyond the usual depiction of a tortured artist. And Morton is sensational, playing against-type as a giggly teen then growing into a tough but sympathetic young wife and mother who wonders who her husband has become.
Ian Curtis' wrenchingly emotional struggle sometimes feels a little monotonous, but photographer-turned-director Corbijn directs it so inventively that we are continually taken aback by the gorgeous, velvety black-and-white cinematography. The exquisite images are continually underscored with an almost Lynchian creepiness, telling much of the story without dialog and capturing tiny gestures and reactions that make Curtis' brief life a thing of raw beauty.
Bryan, N. I.: As a Joy Division fan since 1980 this reveals a lot, with style and substance. Great use of the soundtrack, hinting about maybe the true meaning and inspiration for some of the songs. Ultimately not a happy tale but satisfying in its telling. (14.Oct.07)
Kallie Wilbourn, Las Vegas, New Mexico: This film is so well directed, and the medium and photography so spot on with subject matter, I did not notice at first that it was in black and white. I think Corbjin's sympathy for Ian Curtis, for the suffering no doubt caused by his harrowing (mistreated) physical malady, and how that surely affected his view of human life, has much to do with how Corbjin interprets this life brought so tragically short. Morton is also marvelous, as always, and all the cast. (8.Feb.18)
© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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