When I first heard about the story I really wasn't that interested, I find the idea that someone with great talent wastes it all through suicide not appealing at all, in fact it makes me angry in a way. Then I watched the film, and heard his real story, and I'm so glad I took the time to look further.
The film follows the life of Ian Curtis, from his teenage years through his early marriage, his first gigs with Warsaw, their move to Joy Division and their signing, the first appearances on television and the growing gigs, the birth of his child, his battle with epilepsy, and finally his struggle with depression and his ultimate suicide.
You hear the words "tragic story" all the time, but this story really is, and you can see so clearly that Ian Curtis, the character in the film, is really trying to live a life for everyone, and at times try to live the life he wants, something that he seems only to be able to grasp at in smaller and smaller periods.
What I was most surprised about is just how sympathetic the character is, and how connected you become with him, how much you feel for the character and how you truly do follow him down to his difficult and tragic ending.
The film manages to show a very real side of depression, something that not every film that focuses on a depressive and suicidal character can do and still manage to pull the audience towards the character.
Sam Riley, a newcomer when he appeared in this film, plays the role wonderfully and manages to show an open face of confusion and compassion, which is often haunted and even tortured. He deserves a huge amount of recognition for his performance here which should cement his career for a very long time to come.
It's not just the character of Ian Curtis who is so accessible and so well played, Samantha Morton proves her worth once again as Debbie Curtis giving a similarly wonderful performance that totally draws you into the character. One of the scenes I remember most is when they are on their first date and she is acting all coy and excited, and just before they kiss her lips quiver slightly as though she's imagining what it would be like. That moment of subtlety struck me and so easily makes the character.
There are other characters who are superbly crafted on screen, that of Toby Kebbell who plays the band's manager Rob Gretton, he supplies a strong sense of dry, harsh wit which is so welcome in the film and gives us a great character to watch. His performance is bold and seems to be totally uncaring of the camera and how he is perceived. Whether this is like the real character or not, he is fun to watch.
Then there's the style of the film itself. When a black and white film begins nowadays you tend to be very aware that it is black and white, and every scene sticks out that little bit extra because of it. This is true here, but before long, as the character of Curtis grows and the story pulls you close, you lose that feeling.
From then on you are focused on just how beautifully framed and shot every scene is, in fact it seems as though there's not a single frame that's out of place. Now I don't use this term lightly here, this really is a beautifully shot film, you can tell that a photographer has shot it, and gone to lengths to ensure every shot is striking.
However I'm not all praise for the film. I did find that some parts of the film did drag out some sequences a little too long and it felt that sometimes sequences were reshowing ground that had already been covered. That said, it was never enough to damage the enjoyment of the film, just to slow the pace down in a few places and to make you want it to push onto the next dramatic moment.
Another part that is indeed worthy of praise is the recreation of the sets and styles in the life of Curtis. The film opens with David Bowie in full flow and moves through a few styles without ever feeling twee or creating some hyper-reality of what those years were really like.
Everything seems believable and as though the film was taken at the time in the actual locations, and in some cases such as Curtis' house it actually was. The set design, costuming and general production design was very well done.
The picture looked fantastic, beautifully framed through every shot and it looked sharp and crisp with strong lighting that took us through scenes of darkness in the nighttime car journey and well lit performances. The final sequences are the most striking lighting wise with a strong use of darkness and light to demonstrate the differences between the characters of Ian and Debbie Curtis. In short the picture looks wonderful.
Dolby Digital 5.1
The sound had some problems with levels between the spoken dialogue, which often was quite softly spoken, and the performances, which were rather loud in comparison, and while I like loud music, during the playback I found I was having to adjust the volume between these types of scenes.
As you'd expect this really isn't about surround sound systems so the force is from the front, although some of the performances really do sound better in 5.1.
Audio Commentary with Anton Corbijn, Making of Documentary, Extended Performances, Joy Division Atmosphere video, Photo Gallery, Trailer
Audio Commentary with Anton Corbijn
The commentary was interesting and informative. The Director, Anton Corbijn, talked about the writing, choices made on style and what to tell in the story itself, as well as a lot of information about the real life story of Ian and Debbie Curtis and how the story followed or slightly altered the reality. He has some unique insights into the band having had connections with them outside of the film. This is definitely worth listening to whether you're a Joy Division fan or a film fan, this is one of the better commentaries I've heard.
Making of documentary
The documentary covers quite a bit of ground and features the actors and director talking about the film. There's a fair amount in this and I would say it's above the average featurette/documentary that you see.
There are three video performances from the film shown in their entirety, rather than being cut down for the dramatic storyline. These include the actors actually playing instruments and performing the song themselves, something which really adds to the authenticity and the feel of the performance, after all it suddenly becomes a real performance rather than a film scene.
This is a poetic, touching and quite tragic film that shows the complex life of Ian Curtis and still manages to make him a sympathetic character who you can easily connect with.
I have to admit that I started the film not feeling very sympathetic to him at all, feeling that someone who wastes such talent like that is quite self consumed and doesn't deserve the adulation. However the film really turned me around and helped me understand the problems and pain in his life, problems that I could understand and in some small degree identify with.
The film focuses on the characters and their stories, but at the same time doesn't let any other part of the film slip. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the performances from the leads are all utterly engaging.
I'm not a Joy Division fan I have to say, and yet this film caught me. You see it isn't a film about Joy Division, it's about Ian Curtis and his life, and that comes across in the brilliantly handled film of his all too short life.