Love & Mercy (Blu-ray Review)

Love-And-MercyThe critically acclaimed musical biopic about the fascinating life of the Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy will be available on Digital HD August 25th and on Blu-ray™ (plus Digital HD), DVD (plus Digital) and On Demand September 15th from Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Golden Globe® nominee John Cusack (Best Actor, High Fidelity,2001)stars in”one of the best performances of his career” (The Hollywood Reporter) alongside Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, Looper) as troubled musical genius Brian Wilson at two pivotal stages of his life – the 1960s, at the peak of The Beach Boys’ fame and the 1980s, as Brian reclaims his life after a mental breakdown. They are joined by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise) as Wilson’s present-day wife Melinda, and two-time Golden Globe®winner Paul Giamatti (Best Actor, Barney’s Version,2011; Best Actor, John Adams,2009).

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Love & Mercy is an unconventional portrait of Brian Wilson, singer and songwriter for The Beach Boys. The film intimately examines the unique journey and ultimate salvation of this musical icon, whose success came at an extraordinary personal cost.

Here’s one of those biopics whose structure is the best.  Aaron Neuwirth will frequently point it out (And I wholeheartedly agree) that the majority of biopics that are the best are the ones that pick out a specific period in the subject’s life, rather than do a complete overview.  With Love & Mercy we get a sort of The Godfather Part II kind of situation where it pinpoints two specific and important points in Brian Wilson’s life.  And to be honest, if you were to make the overview type, these are the points you’d be sitting twiddling your thumbs anxiously waiting for them to happen over the course of said film.

This isn’t the story of The Beach Boys, but just the story of one;  Brian Wilson.  Obviously the most interesting of the bunch and they pick the focus to be the band’s best album, Pet Sounds.  That album is one of the most highly regarded albums in the history of music and there is a load of background on the recording of that album.  Brian Wilson was one of those tortured geniuses and we get to watch him work and meet pushback from his own bandmates and his father whom he’d recently fired.  Its all not super in depth, but in a casual way, there’s plenty of details and breakdowns of recording some of the more known tracks on the album.  You get to see them stripped away, layers at a time and the working ideas from the brain of Wilson.  The studio sessions are incredibly fun and educational.

Love & Mercy features some of the year’s best performances.  First, HOORAY!  We have John Cusack giving a shit again!  He’s one of my favorites and this is the best he has been in YEARS.  He was almost getting into Bruce Willis territory with the last couple films I saw him in.  He’s terrific as the older Brian Wilson and had this film been coming out in December, I feel he might garner consideration for a nomination.  If this film can get remembered around Oscar time though, I feel Paul Giamatti might be this film’s best bet.  He is incredibly creepy, diabolical and pretty unforgettable here.  Elizabeth Banks gives one of her stronger performances here, bringing both her charming charisma and a real sense of dramatic weight.  Oh, and Paul Dano, who is usually good in everything he does, is exceptional once again.

This Brian Wilson biopic I think is going to prove to be one of the better music biopics of all time.  It seems right now to be a smaller, float under the radar type, but I think it’ll garner more a following with home video/streaming.  Its a grand return and bounce back for John Cusack and features grand performances from its notable cast.  It also is an incredibly cool film from a visual standpoint.  Plus it has some of the best music the Beach Boys had to offer playing and also seeing them get made.  Check it out!

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  I think this film looks terrific on Blu-ray.  It incorporates many aesthetics throughout, so the “quality” can appear to be different at times.  But, each look the film takes on it excels in delivering the intended feel.  And the detail is there as well and varies per the “aged” look of it.  When in the later time period, things are crisp and clear and look as good as any top modern film would coming to Blu-ray.

Depth:  As mentioned above, there are different aesthetics for the film.  The modern part looks as you’d expect.  The past stuff is a little more flat and movements are a little more blurred as well, but its as intended.

Black Levels:  Blacks are pretty rich and accurate, accentuating the definition of the characters and objects.  No crushing or detail hidden.

Color Reproduction:  The palette on the film changes from time frame to time frame.  The 60s stuff has exactly that feel and the colors’ visual appeal is that of a Mad Men episode.  The later stuff with Cusack is much more vivid with blues that really pop.

Flesh Tones:  Skin looks natural and stays consistent with whatever time frame you’re in.  Detail is pretty high, showing skin textures, make up, pores and wrinkles.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean, but contains intended distortions at times.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  When your focus is on the music, you better do some good.  And its safe to say Love & Mercy has no problem doing that.  This lossless track sounds gorgeous and dynamic anytime there is a musical performance.  There are also moments of insanity from the score that are quite effective in this mix.

Low Frequency Extension:  Car doors shutting, drums beating and bass lines in the music all get some good bumping from the sub woofer.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Most of the focus on this mix is in the front where it does an outstanding job with the music and following the action on screen.  The rear speakers join in for some of the music and also provide some good ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Crisp and clean.  The singing also sounds quite terrific.

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Love & Mercy comes with an UltraViolet Digital Copy of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With Director/Producer Bill Pohlad and Executive Producer/Co-Writer Oren Moverman

A California Story: Creating the Look of Love & Mercy (HD, 10:48) – Discusses the visual stylings and choices for the film.

A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson (HD, 25:31) – Paul Dano, John Cusack, Brian Wilson, the film’s director and producers discuss the dual storyline choice, Brian’s personality and the actor’s approach to their performances.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 7:27) 

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Love & Mercy is of the mold that the greater biopics come from in that it pics a specific time in the person in the spotlight’s life to focus on rather than the whole thing.  But, here its moreso two specific points told in a The Godfather Part II styling.  Lionsgate’s release comes with top tier video and audio.  The extras here are quite decent as well.  Its one of the year’s best films and sports some of the year’s top performances as well.  I fear it will be forgotten come Oscar time, but hopefully not.



Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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