Paralleling pivotal chapters in the life of the Beach Boy, Love & Mercy’s biopic of troubled genius musician Brian Wilson has more in common with Scorsese’s The Aviator than Walk the Line or Ray.Drawing a late career-high performance from John Cusack, who has spent far too much time in the DTV doldrums recently, and another impressive turn from Paul Dano, film producer Bill Pohlad’s sophomore directorial effort (although it feels more like a debut - he hasn’t made a film in 25 years) crafts an intense and intriguing look at the life of this musical genius. We follow – in awe and shock – as he engages with his popular siblings, struggles with hearing damage done by one too many beatings, gets overwhelmed by the strange noises which appear to be coming more from inside his head than outside, and channels his atypical musical thought processes into original harmonies which would go on to become seminal all-time greats. Blended with a later timeline, this early heyday for Brian and his siblings – where his mental health first starts to become an issue – is keenly juxtaposed with his later 80s life under the control of a manipulative ‘doctor’ (a suitably crazed Paul Giamatti).In this period he falls in love again, with Melinda, a car saleswoman (played warmly by Elizabeth Banks) who is shocked to discover the ‘treatment’ that he is receiving from his supposed doctor. Wilson’s recording of the musical score for tracks like God Only Knows and Good Vibrations provide a highlight for the Dano-era, whilst Cusack’s vulnerability in the face of a raging Giamatti lights up the second arc. And with a tremendous score by long-term Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor collaborator, Atticus Ross, which utilises original Beach Boys tape stems and provides a suitably discordant accompaniment to the highs and lows of the narrative, Love & Mercy may not trade in the utmost historical – or musical – accuracy, but it provides an insightful and often harrowing look at the life and work of Brian Wilson and thus the Beach Boys in general. Part The Aviator, part Whiplash, and often all-troubled-genius, Love & Mercy may not be as powerful as its siblings but it’s still warm, touching and well-made.
Picture QualityLove & Mercy's solid video presentation provides an intentionally weathered period flavour.
Although it was never going to make for demo material, the 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen, remains faithful to a very organic-looking period recreation, jumping back and forth from the sixties to the eighties with ease, and finely observing the changing settings, styles, outfits, colours and ambience. Black levels are reasonably strong and rich, and grain and saturation are intentionally variable (from the different 35mm and 16mm footage used, and the styles adopted), giving the film a nicely authentic period biopic feel.
Sound QualityLove & Mercy benefits from a strong DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, the highlight of which is Atticus Ross's tremendous score.
Dialogue remains clear and coherent throughout (where necessary as, of course, there are several sequences where the dialogue intentionally gets drowned out), and effects are well-reflected to allow for a warm backing accompaniment that brings life to the various sets and settings. Of course, as you'd only expect from a biopic about Brian Wilson, the music provides a highlight, although Ross's superb score - which inventively incorporates excerpts and stems from original Beach Boys recording sessions - both reflects the musical genius of Wilson's mind (the recreated recording sessions will change the way you look at some of these classic tracks; it's astounding the layering that went into these pieces), and also the strained discord within him. With the LFE channel added further weight, this is a superior aural accompaniment.
ExtrasA trio of features cover all the bases - a strong and informative Audio Commentary by the Director and the Co-Writer, particularly in its look at the impact of the production on the lives of many of the still-alive, real-life individuals; an accompanying Making-of Featurette which offers particular focus into recreating some of the seminal songs; and a selection of Deleted Scenes which are worth dipping into.
Blu-ray VerdictPart The Aviator, part Whiplash, and often all-genius, Love & Mercy may not be as powerful as its siblings but it’s still warm, touching and well-made.
This UK Region Free release provides excellent video and audio and a solid selection of extra features. Aside from some terrible cover art (wholly at odds with the tone and substance of the piece), it makes for a worthy purchase for fans of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and a highly recommended rental for everybody else.
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