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Home » Culture and Criticism


Submitted by on December 14, 2009 – 1:06 PM8 Comments

controlDon't let the big names fool you: Control is a B movie. Accepted on B-movie terms, it's quite good, in the sense that it is often bad, but has the internal wisdom to keep things moving along and not look down. (The director, Tim Hunter, works mostly in TV, including a bunch of Mad Men episodes and, hilariously, the 90210 pilot.)

The movie begins with Lee Ray Oliver (Ray Liotta, very foxy in cracker-sociopath drag — he should consider sideburns as a permanent fixture) receiving a lethal injection for various murders for which he feels no remorse. Businesslike flashbacks to his crappy childhood let us know that, more than anything, he is a product of his surroundings. Cut, then, to Oliver waking up in the morgue to a reprieve, of sorts: Dr. Michael Copeland (Willem Dafoe), an employee of a semi-ethical Big Pharma giant, is testing a drug on antisocial criminals that, it is hoped, blocks their aggressive impulses and can restore them to society. Oliver can submit to the drug trial, or he can receive the death sentence as originally handed down. Oliver agrees to the trial.

This set-up, and what happens once the dosing begins, are interesting ideas: the nature-vs.-nurture debate; what effect a flood of previously-unfelt remorse might have on a man who has never acted with any before; what might take place when rageful aggression is no longer the default response to adversity. A 90-minute movie that also features Kathleen "Clare Arnold" Robertson making out with Willem Dafoe, however, is probably not going to make much headway on these questions. The good news, I guess, is that after the third time Oliver nearly escapes thanks to the lab's failure to restrain him properly (or at all) while the Big Pharma VP (played by Stephen Rea…bert the ferk?) frowns disapprovingly, you'll probably give up any hope of considered debate and just enjoy the slo-mo of Liotta jumping out a third-story window.

Control is full of inconsistencies and over-the-top-ular backstory that, on paper, sound insurmountable, but between the pacing and the performances, it works, in its way. Michelle Rodriguez and Liotta meet cute at the car wash and then go on a date to the fair? Ridiculous. She's half his age, and he's cut off the sideburns by that point. And yet, Liotta makes it work; he's not often called upon to play "bashfully charming," so it's a nice little gift when he does. Dr. Copeland's ostensible motivation on the drug-trial project is the death of his young son due to a road-rage incident? Please. But then Dafoe's exposition on the point is delivered briskly, with the right undertone of rue; despite the absurdity, you find yourself thinking, "Jesus, that's horrible."

Even Tim DeKay is pretty good; it looks like a hammy performance unless you grade him on the curve of the character as written, and said writing apparently consisted of little more than "unshaven redneck resentfully drinking his brother's disability checks." DeKay's a pro, though — Crisco in the hair, the whole bit — and then he has a nice little moment where he's just committed an actual felony and he's freaking out.

It's kind of dumb; the "reveal" is…in quotation marks; it won't make any AFI lists. But if you need a thriller to do your nails by, Control is just the thing.

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  • Margaret in CO says:

    Wo…I thought that pic was of Stephen King.

  • Ellen says:

    The story sounds like it has a few things in common with "A Clockwork Orange". Also, that is Ray Liotta in that pic? Eesh, not good.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    EEEeeeYARGH, bad shot of Ray Liotta! And I happen to think he's pretty fine – AND to like sideburns (no, I do NOT have a Quentin Collins fixation, why do you keep ASKING me that??). However, in the above shot, it looks as if someone dug around for that really BIG fish-eye lens, and used it where it would turn out the most appalling results.

  • Jaybird says:

    Ellen, I thought that too. Seems a lot like Liotta ought to drawl "O my bruthah" somewhere along the way.

    I know we're supposed to take Dafoe very seriously, because he's done edgy stuff and is seemingly fearless about his acting choices, but: He's Willem Dafoe. He's the second coming of Klaus Kinski, and he lives in little kids' closets, y'all. Old boy literally scares the hell out of me, which makes for extra housework.

  • Sandman says:

    I think this one lost me at "wakes up in the morgue." So Big Bad Pharma's McGuffin Capsule helps the criminal element recover from … death? How is that not the bigger deal? Recidivism, pfff.

    @Jaybird: Are we still supposed to take Defoe seriously after Spiderman? I'm guessing no. "… second coming of Klaus Kinski," hee.

    I know Tim DeKay mostly from his tv journeyman guest star-slash-H!ITG work, but I love what he's doing on White Collar right now.

    And please stop making that face, Ray Liotta.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Sandman: Sorry, I wasn't clear about that — he's actually given a sedative when he's in the death chamber. Once it wears off, he wakes up in the morgue and is offered a choice: submit to McGuffitin OTC testing, or get executed for real. When he agrees, he's given Antagress every six hours.

    It being a McGuffin, I guess the fine points don't really matter. Again: Jesus, making out with Clare Chancellorsdottir. Hard to subject that to any kind of rigorous plotting requirements.

  • Sandman says:

    @Sars: Oh, okay. I expect I was the only one thrown by that, so I'll just change out of this Henh? and into a nice, comfy Doy!

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    Ray Liotta and Willem Dafoe are two of my most long-standing crushes (yes, I know I have issues, but you could cut diamonds with Dafoe's cheekbones and that goes a looooong way with me) so I have put this high on my Netflix list. With my vicoprophen scrip and this, it will be a very merry xmas (and I mean the x).

    That said, I must say that I was a little confused when I first clicked on this post, thinking that it was about the Joy Division movie.

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