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The musician biopic isn't my favourite genre. Most movies can't find new ways of expressing that all celebrities' lives are the same. Here's how these films work: Musician gets a record deal, big fanfare, takes a wife, develops a drug problem, isolates his family, hits rock bottom and has a comeback. Death is optional. The success of Control, a chronicle of the short adult life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, is in its rejection of rock bio cliche, to portray the human element of a man's secretive doom.

Music video director and still photographer Anton Corbijn doesn't offensively distill Curtis's distress to a series of "events." More than a celebrity expose, Control excels as an unsensationalized movie about depression. The introverted, polite Curtis (played by Sam Riley) fakes enthusiasm to please his bandmates when it's announced Joy Division will tour the US. Beneath the facade, he's a living timebomb. Corbijn's stark black-and-white photography gives working-class Manchester the iconic look of classic record cover stills. It's a beautiful, big-screen imprint of a pop-culture era, with Riley excelling at mimicking Curtis's stage presence and at interpreting his private life. What keeps Control grounded as being merely one of the year's best movies, rather than the front-spot winner, is its occasional tendency to over-literalize. When Curtis, employed as a social worker, witnesses a girl die from an epileptic seizure, it leads directly to a scene of him penning "She's Lost Control." Later romantic troubles instantly cue a performance of "Love Will Tear Us Apart." This A-B scene pattern cheapens its portrayal of the dynamic between a young man's life and his art with rock-mag trivia. It's when Corbijn allows Joy Division's music to play as a deeper branch of Curtis' neurosis, acknowledging that his fate was mostly unforeseen and unexplainable, that Control finds its pulse. Its final image of dark smoke polluting a clear sky is its hardest to shake off.

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