Love and Mercy has a situation I don’t ever remember coming across before – a biopic with two actors playing the same person across a period of time.
Before watching this, I thought it would be far easier to get to grips with Paul Dano as the younger Brian Wilson (below), rather than John Cusack (bottom pic) twenty years on, not because of anything that’s Cusack’s fault as he’s a superb actor and I’ve seen him in many great films like Con Air, Grosse Pointe Blank – if you cut out the love story with Minnie Driver, and 2012 – yes, it is a decent special effects-laden piece of fun (as well as the odd stinker like The Paperboy), but because, like Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige would warble if they’ve sampled him similarly, we know him so well…
However, the more the film went on, while, yes, Cusack looks nothing like Wilson, he increasingly made you feel like he was embodying the man.
The film takes in his ’60s success, and then to the ’80s, when he’s rather a broken man, having suffered psychosis since the early years. Cusack plays him spaced out, at first, borrowing a pen from car saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games series) and asking for something to write on. After he’s left the showroom, she sees he’s written: “Lonely. Scared. Frightened.” This is while he’s in the care of Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who comes across as a very controlling individual, right from the start.
An early moment shows ’60s Brian suffering a potential heart attack on a plane and pulling out of a subsequent tour, letting the band go on without him, with him staying home, experimenting with new songs and formats, including working on the album the rest of the band were unsure about, but which became Pet Sounds, an album called “the most progressive pop album ever” by British media.
Love and Mercy is a bizarre film, for sure. On the plus side, also, the film makes you want to look up more information about Brian and fill in more gaps, since wanted to learn more about everything that went on. However, if I had any issues it’s that as we go back and forth in time, I’d prefer it the film specified exactly the month and year of the period. Otherwise, it could be a month on or two years on, for all we know.
In addition, I thought it was going a bit ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ around 15-20 minutes from the end, but everyone is on point and, overall, it’s a triumph.
The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition and it looks superb, perfectly bringing out the best of the two eras on display.I watched this on a Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and there’s a wonderful score from Atticus Ross which is mostly composed from the original Beach Boys multi-track recording stems, having been inspired by The Beatles’ Revolution 9, and Danger Mouse’s Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up. The Grey Album. For example, the 5.1 surround mix really brings to life the distorted voices in Brian’s head as his psychosis sets in.
The extras are as follows, but really, they’re way too brief and we need more:
- A California Story: Creating the Look of Love And Mercy (10:48): Mixing on-set footage with chat from the cast and crew, we see that instead of using different lenses to film, they used set design and wardrobe to define the two eras as they cut between, and it works brilliantly, especially with Brian’s first wife, Marian, available on-set to give pointers about the costumes. They also used a lot of the same locations including using the same studios where Pet Sounds was made.
- Deleted Scenes (7:15): Four scenes. They’re not essential to be put back into the film, particularly the second one, but they work well as additional material.
- Audio commentary: with director Bill Phohlad and Oren Moverman
The menu is static but with some subtle music which is nothing to do with the Beach Boys. It sounds very much like something from a free sound effects library. Not quite sure what that’s about. Subtitles are in English, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Spanish (Castilian) and Spanish (Latin American), and chapters are slightly more than the usual amount you get on most discs. There are 16, whereas a lot of distributors skimp on a mere 12.
Running time: 121 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
Released: January 4th 2016
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 (English only), DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (all apart from Spanish (Latin American)), DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, Italian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American)
Subtitles: English, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American)
Format: 1.85:1 (Super 16, Super 35)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Bill Pohlad
Producers: Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein and John Wells
Screenplay: Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner (based on the life of Brian Wilson)
Music: Atticus Ross
Brian – Past: Paul Dano
Brian – Future: John Cusack
Melinda Ledbetter: Elizabeth Banks
Dr Eugene Landy: Paul Giamatti
Mike Love: Jake Abel
Dennis Wilson: Kenny Wormald
Carl Wilson: Brett Davern
Al Jardine: Graham Rogers
Marilyn Wilson: Erin Darke
Audree Wilson: Joanna Going
Murry Wilson: Bill Camp
Bruce Johnston: Nick Gehlfuss
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.