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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (review)

inside_llewyn_davis_ver2INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake
 
Jean: Do you ever think of the future at all?

Llewyn Davis: The future? Like flying cars?

The life of a struggling musician has never been an easy one to bear, but thanks to Joel and Ethan Coen, that life does make for a pretty smooth and insightful film. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the Coen brothers’ 16th film together, keeps it simple and takes us inside the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a folk singer living in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1961. We spend a week with the songwriter as he bounces from couch to couch, and from gig to gig, and in doing so, the Coen’s do away with anything resembling a plot and prove that they can find meaning in life without having to manipulate it to suit their purposes.

We first meet Llewyn Davis in his most natural of habitats, on stage. He sits on a stool on the dark stage of the Gaslight Cafe, lit by one spotlight, and he commands the entire room with the sound of his voice. Stripped down and simple is how Llewyn likes to keep things, at least when it comes to his music. His life is anything but this though. He is essentially a vagrant; he has a network of friends and admirers whom he counts on for shelter. In some cases, he practically plays for his plate and a place at the dinner table. It is just Llewyn and his music and that’s the way he likes it. His music is his profession but yet he makes no genuine effort to turn this profession into something profitable. The idea of making money off of his music doesn’t disgust him, so long as what he’s making is just enough to get by on. Anything more than that though, as in anything that could actually set him up with a solid life, seems to be something of a betrayal to the craft for him. And we all know that inauthenticity is akin to death for the folk singer.

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There would be no getting inside Llewyn Davis if it weren’t for Isaac’s fantastic and fascinating portrayal. Not only does Isaac nail the vocal demands of the part, no doubt relying on his early career experience in a band, but he also inhabits the part as if he has been living Llewyn’s lackadaisical life for some time now. There is a weight he carries on his shoulders, whether when learning that he’s gotten a married woman pregnant or when he discovers that his latest album is barely selling. It is as if he has resigned himself to the belief that a life in music is destined to be one of misfortune. His is a lonely life; he has no genuine connections with anyone around him and nowhere to call home. His loneliness is only amplified by the recent loss of his singing partner, who jumped off a bridge when it was clear his life wasn’t going anywhere. If anything positive can come from that tragedy, it would be Llewyn’s realization that the same fate awaits him if he doesn’t start steering his life in a better direction, any direction really.

Between the beautiful musical bed, once again overseen by T. Bone Burnett (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), the incredible supporting cast, including Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, Garrett Hedlund and John Goodman, and the brilliant cinematography, lensed by first time Coen contributor, Bruno Delbonnel (AMELIE), INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is an engrossing exploration of the 1960’s folk scene and an intimate look at one man’s struggle between commerce and artistic expression. The Coen’s themselves are no strangers to making art within a commercially viable medium and almost every film they’ve made in the last five or six years has walked that fine line with confidence and pride. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is no exception. In fact, it may be one of their finest moments ever.

4.5

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give Inside Llewyn Davis?

2 Comments

  1. i can’t say i was particularly immersed in this film. it seems very much different from Coen brothers style and i just couldn’t connect with it. it has its moments though

    • I would agree that it differs from previous Coen works but it still has their sense of humour, mostly through the cat bits and through John Goodman. I thin the Coens are getting older and their films are maturing with them.

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