Published on January 30th, 2014 | by Allan Brown6
Inside Llewyn Davis Review
Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis (2014)
Running Time: 104 mins
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, Garrett Hedlund
Plot: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
Writer/Directors Joel and Ethan Coen have captivated audiences over the years with their quirky, dark comedies that always offer stimulating characters and exhilarating dialogue. Despite their somewhat cult following and refusal to be anything other than faithful to their own vision, the Coen brothers have gone on to great success.
From a post modern Western in No Country For Old Men to a 1960s character drama about a Jewish man struggling with life’s biggest questions, remains a testament of their refusal to be restrained and shackled by the mainstream market, and to simply follow what feels natural to them. This time the Coen’s choose to go low-key with a musical drama from their original screenplay entitled, Inside Llewyn Davis.
Greenwich Village played the backdrop and cultural dwelling for many rising musicians in 1960s New York, and it is here in the Gaslight Café that we are first introduced to our main protagonist, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). He is a gifted yet struggling folk singer, who not only must come to terms with the recent suicide of his musical partner Mike, but also accept and adapt in becoming a solo artist. However, with his recent solo album not selling and he without money, Llewyn is forced to depend on the generosity of friends, frenemies and associates alike, for a place to lay his head. Despite his dream, his ambition and his musical talent, the film follows Llewyn over the course of a week, a week of physical and emotional battering, a carnival of failures, as he fights an uphill struggle to exist.
Bruno Delbonnels atmospheric cinematography that reeks of nostalgia, effortlessly transporting you back to 1960s New York
Once again the Coen brothers show their ability to balance exquisite visuals and unconventional characters with some wonderful dark-comedy, and despite the films bleak tone and theme, the Coen’s never allow it to consume the narrative.
As well as the directing duo’s exquisite attention to detail and Bruno Delbonnels atmospheric cinematography that reeks of nostalgia, effortlessly transporting you back to 1960s New York, it must be highlighted that Inside Llewyn Davis is as much a visual treat as it is a musical triumph. Each melodic performance from the cast of actors (which was recorded live on-set) is simply magnificent and breathes life into each scene, a stark contrast to the films darker shades.
It is Oscar Isaac that steals the show with a wondrous breakthrough performance as our lead Llewyn Davis. Everything from his moody, downbeat demeanour that is pitch perfect to his emotionally expressive and haunting acoustic sets, that will likely send a chill down your spine.
Equally great is the talented Carey Mulligan who plays the estranged Jean. A friend of sorts to Llewyn and a onetime fling, whos own self loathing manifests itself as a constant string of verbal insults and putdowns toward our lead. The rest of the cast although in smaller roles come from Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund all of whom enrich the screen anytime they are present.
The films symbolises Llewyn’s journey in many fun visual nods and thought provoking analogies, in particular with the neighbour’s cat Ulysses (The name of a Greek King who fought in the Trojan War to then be faced with a barrage of difficult obstacles on journey home).
However, despite its excellence in acting, directing, writing and cinematography, Inside Llewyn Davis’ downbeat tone and unconventional storyline, will likely leave many unsatisfied and unfulfilled. It can be said the film comes and goes without leaving much of an impact but despite its low-key and restrained style, there is much to adore here. And while the Coen’s will always avoid those wholesome all American happy endings, it can be said they will always tell it their way, without apology.
Summary: Inside Llewyn Davis will unlikely break box-office records this January, but despite its lack of mainstream appeal the Coen brothers have created a film that is truly in sync with every element of its make-up. From its melancholic visuals and tone to its moody characters and dialogue, rarely has there been such a wonderfully complementary and fully harmonised cinematic experience.