Inside Llewyn Davis Review

Posted: January 5, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

InsideLlewynDavisFirstTeaserposter1Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The Coen Brothers have always been important filmmakers, but it seems that since 2007 the duo has been on a particular hot streak. No Country For Old Men is one of their absolute best films, Burn After Reading is one of their funniest films, A Serious Man is one of their most interesting, and True Grit is one of their most well-rounded films. The fact that these films came back to back every year was quite a treat as well. After a three year break, The Coens have returned with the modest Inside Llewyn Davis, a film which might be my favourite of theirs since their Best Picture winning classic.

The film opens in the winter of 1961 and focuses on the Greenwich Village folk song. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer whose partner has recently killed himself. Llewyn is struggling to make it in the business. He barely makes enough money to survive, he’s having trouble establishing himself as a solo artist, and he has no permanent residence, instead spending nights on the couches of friends. This proves increasingly difficult as Llewyn is not a particularly likable person and pretty effectively sours his relationships with others. The plot mostly follows Llewyn over the course of a few days which challenge him and make him rethink his future as a musician.

I think the story here is going to be a big divider for people. The fact is, there aren’t very many big moments in the film and there also isn’t a clean conclusion. Instead, the film simply follows Llewyn over the course of a few days. There are moments which clearly have an effect on him, but it’s not always clear what the effect is. This is particularly true of the end which has an ambiguous quality to it. Personally I very much appreciated this approach. The story may not be large, but it is interesting and while it may not spell out its meanings, I think there are a lot of profound things to be drawn from the film. The movie’s more scaled back approach also helps it feel very real. This is a very important point The Coens are trying to get across, that there were many people in similar circumstances as Davis and likely still are today. It should also be noted that while the story can get pretty heavy, the Coens humour comes through in quite a few scenes. This is a drama first, but there are a lot of laughs and amusements scattered throughout.

The other major divider will be simply that Llewyn is written to be an unlikable character. He’s not a bad person necessarily, but he’s kind of an asshole and he’s also arrogant. A lot of people won’t respond to the film because they won’t be able to root for Llewyn, but I think The Coens were smart to depict him as a flawed person. A lot of works about “the starving artist” suffer because all they really ask is for the consumer to feel sympathy for the protagonist, but I don’t think that’s what The Coens are really going for here. They seem to be simply asking if it is worth suffering for one’s art or if one should settle for a more “normal” existence. By making the lead an unlikable person, The Coens place an emphasis on this theme. On top of that, an unlikable protagonist is more of a risk and for this film I feel a more likable protagonist would be less interesting.

Music is a crucial part of Inside Llewyn Davis and The Coens have ensured it lives up to the film. They’ve teamed with T Bone Burnett (who they worked with on O Brother Where Art Thou?) and produced a few original folk songs. They sound like they could have been taken straight from the 60s and Mumford and Sons lead vocalist Marcus Mumford contributes to some songs as well. The music is all very good and credit to the actors, especially Oscar Isaac, for performing the songs with passion and skill. The Coens show their craft in a lot of other ways too. The cinematography is excellent, even with classic Coens contributor Roger Deakins being replaced by Bruno Delbonnel. The film has minimal colour, with an emphasis on black, white, and grey and lighting is played with an interesting ways. The art direction is also worth noting. The film brings to life a deglamorized 1960s very well and there are also little details I appreciated.

Like all Coen films, the brothers have gathered a very talented cast. Oscar Isaac is very strong in the lead role. He really embodies the character and brings so much humanity to the part he’s somewhat likeable in spite of Llewyn’s faults. Carey Mulligan is also fun in a role which differs from her usual parts and she has some unique line delivery as well. Coen regular John Goodman also has a hilarious cameo as a jazz musician who Llewyn briefly travels with. The rest of the supporting cast is rounded out by familiar faces like Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund. F. Murray Abraham has a good role here, and his appearance reminds us of his role as an unappreciated musician in Amadeus. The bit players are rounded out by lesser known actors with interesting faces who give memorable work despite their small characters.

Like Before Midnight, Inside Llewyn Davis is a very humble and modest film which isn’t as obviously great as some of 2013’s other big releases. But this is a great film, and one that really resonated with me. So is it a film I can recommend for everyone. Well, on that I’m not sure. The way I see it, most people will likely respond to the film one of two ways. They either won’t connect with the story and they won’t particularly care for it, or they will connect with the story and they’ll love it. Consider me among the latter.

A

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. One of the better character-studies I’ve seen in quite some time. Why I gave this an 8.5 is totally and unbelievably beyond me!

  2. Chris says:

    I actually liked your review better than I liked the film. Like I said, I didn’t have any strong feelings either way about this film and I realize an artist needs to grow – but the Coen’s at one time were my favourite film makers. They haven’t made a film since O Brother that I wanted to own. Remember the Lars quote “What do you want Master of Puppets II?”, Yes Please. (beats the shit outta St.Anger) Another Raising Arizona or the Big Lebowski would be a welcome diversion.

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