Cert: 15 Runtime: 104 mins Director: Ethan & Joel Coen Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F.Murray Abraham and John Goodman
If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song
The Coen Brothers have been a big part of my movie life ever since I saw Fargo in my teens, they are truly masters of their craft. But since I have known of Inside Llewyn Davis I haven’t been captivated by it. Folk music isn’t my forte, but being that it is a Coen Brothers movie it needed to be viewed. Being welsh I was intrigued that the title of the film had such a welsh name, but you can find that out for your self if you watch the movie. What is the tale of Llewyn Davis then? It’s 1961 and the folk scene in New York’s Greenwich Village is booming. But talented young troubadour Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) seems to be left behind. We spend a week with him sofa-surfing, depressed and broke, he drinks too much and annoys just about everyone he meets as he tries to kick-start his solo career. To complicate matters further, he’s impregnated foul-mouthed Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan) – the wife of his best mate, Jim (Justin Timberlake). Llewyn is another of the Coen brothers’ flawed yet essentially decent characters against whom fate seems to conspire.
Inside Llewyn Davis is an intimate, well-executed, and honest slice of life. It features a humanistic, heartfelt performance by Oscar Isaac as the titular folk singer, arresting cinematography, and a sharp, tight-fisted script by the Coen brothers.The movie is only somewhat linear, with closing scenes mirroring opening scenes, and it is told entirely from Llewyn’s point of view. The Coen brothers masterfully show us not only Llewyn’s perspective but also an outside perspective; this allows us to feel both empathy and loathing toward him. Llewyn is nothing if not complex. The movie does a terrific job of avoiding the usual clichés, such as a down-on-his-luck musician catching a lucky break, or a bitter man having a quick change of heart. It’s not that Llewyn is constantly sneering at everyone, holding his poverty up as both a shield and a trophy, it’s that he is so multi-layered that when he does a kind act or offers some praise or thanks, we don’t feel that his doing so is in any way out of character. Llewyn is a self-tortured soul, but unlike caricatures of wandering folkies, he is at his centre a realist, albeit a prideful one.During his travels and travails, Llewyn encounters people ranging from the genuine his singing friends Jim and Jean, played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan to the absurd a rotund, blustery John Goodman. I must give credit to Carey Mulligan, her supporting role was brilliant. I am not a great fan of hers but she has converted me after this performance.
Oh, and a cat that travels with Llewyn – at least until he can get him or her back to the owner. The encounters with the genuine folks feel just as normal as if you or I encountered them; those with the more absurd of the lot feel perfectly surreal, and when they do end one almost wonders if we’ve all imagined the encounters through Llewyn himself.The music is beautiful and moving, it was all recorded live on set apart from one song. I think I will be buying the album. Isaac himself performs Llewyn’s songs, with a sweet, vulnerable voice that offers a touch of soul to Llewyn’s otherwise-bleak surroundings. When Llewyn is really on, you can feel his pain leap right off the screen into your brain; when he appears to be going through the motions and not singing from his heart, you can feel the lack of depth that his intended audience also feels. Isaac is just flat-out terrific.Ultimately, it is Isaac and the music that push this film into the territory of great cinema. The story itself is stark, moody, unyielding – just like a New York City winter, really. And the movie, like Llewyn’s own life, appears to have no point – except to illustrate just how pointless Llewyn is making his life, through his stubborn marriage to his craft and a desire to stay uprooted.