Love & Mercy is a very sad film about a very troubled person. I have to assume that this film is factually correct because it feels extremely well-researched, and I just can’t imagine the filmmakers inventing stuff simply to manufacture drama. I’m was not up to speed with Brian Wilson’s turbulent life and the events that surrounded the rise of the Beach Boys, so as such, the entire film was one surprise after another, and it’s a work that’s both illuminating and despairing in equal measure, much as life so often is for many people. This isn’t your routine biopic whatsoever, and one of the aspects I liked the most was that director Bill Pohlad (his second film in 25 years after years of producing, most notably The Tree of Life, 12 Years a Slave, and Into the Wild) and screenwriters Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) and Michael Lerner really showed you the intense creative process that goes into devising, writing, and performing music, especially for a guy like Wilson, who clearly had some savant stuff going on, and definitely was ahead of his time in terms of how he approached the task of artistic collaboration. There’s a fantastic sense of fidelity to the material that makes the entire piece feel very heartfelt and eye-opening, with some of the real-life recording stages being used for key scenes in this constantly probing film. I haven’t seen a better performance from John Cusack in years, as he paints a portrait of the older Wilson as extremely damaged goods, yet not without his glimmers of hope and ability to want to love. Paul Dano is absolutely fantastic portraying Wilson in his song writing and singing prime, yet still demonstrating the fact that his mental illness took root early on in life, no doubt spurred on by the abusive behavior of his father. Both actors fully commit to their impassioned performances, and as a result, the dual impressions of Wilson the artist and Wilson the man feel incredibly cohesive. Paul Giamatti is pure scum as a disingenuous “doctor” who duped Wilson out of happiness (and other things) for far too long, and the always wonderful Elizabeth Banks plays Wilson’s later-in-life love interest, a woman who fell in love and went to bat for Wilson, in an effort to help him turn his life around. Shot by the extremely talented cinematographer Robert Yeoman (all of Wes Anderson’s films, To Live and Die in LA), the film feels extremely California, with golden sunlight stretching across the colorful images, with smart, casually stylish framing in abundance as per usual for this incredible cameraman. Atticus Ross’s immersive score not only highlights the best of the Beach Boys but creates an unnerving quality that cuts to the heart of Wilson’s numerous psychological issues; the use of rising sounds followed by abrupt silence is used to maximum effect. This is an incredibly focused and expertly crafted film, especially for someone calling the shots for the first time in more than two decades, marking Pohlad as a major talent to watch out for in the future, should he wish to continue sitting in the most important seat on the set.


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