After releasing four films in a row, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen took a three year absence before delivering Inside Llewyn Davis, which is very different from everything they’ve made before, but also, a quintessentially Coen brothers film. One of the signs of cinematic auteurs, I guess. The movie tells the story of the titular character (Oscar Isaac), a musician that is part of the early 1960s Greenwhich Village folk scene, and that seems to be based on Dave Van Ronk. Like Van Ronk, who was essential to the scene, but never really quite became famous, he is a talented man; like many Coens’ protagonists, he doesn’t seem to be able to catch a break. I’ll go right ahead and say I loved Inside Llewyn Davis. The Coens might very well be my favorite directors, but I don’t love everything they do. This movie, though, I think it’s one of their best.
As directors, these guys are famous for being meticulous and detail-oriented, and so what I found here was a delicately and flawlessly crafted movie, an incredibly portrait of failure and loneliness. Like I said, Llewyn Davis is a really talented man, with an insanely beautiful voice, but he is also knows how talented he is. He has some pretty bad luck throughout the film, but the image he has of himself ends up making him his own worst enemy. It also makes him a very lonely person. This is going to get a little personal, but I moved to New York not too long ago, and didn’t really know anybody, so I’ve spent some pretty lonely months. There is something about this movie that captures that feeling of being surrounded by people, but still being alone that really resonated with me.
In his journey, Llewyn is surrounded by colorful characters played by an amazing cast. Carey Mulligan, Adam Driver and F. Murray Abraham, to name a few, are all fantastic. There is also a cart that Llewyn finds himself taking care of early in the movie, and it’s weird to say this, but I think it might be one of the best animal performances. But this is really Oscar Isaac’s movie. He is not only a great singer, but also does an amazing job at playing Llewyn. For being a character that spends so much time silent, or looking out of windows, it’s a very lively performance. People have said he is an unlikable character, and kind of an asshole. He is both, but that is also what I found so endearing about him. He is by no means a boring person to watch, he feels real, and what’s more, he feels appropriate to the movie. I couldn’t picture it with anyone else playing the role in any other way.
Besides being a great portrait of loneliness and failure, Inside Llewyn Davis, is also an incredibly effective portrait of winter in New York. The cinematograhy by Bruno Delbonnel is fantastic. It is incredibly chilly and yet maintains a warm glow. If you watch the trailer for the movie online, the photography might seem a little too processed, but it works beautifully on the big screen. In my opinion, it just looks the way winter feels. And then, there is the music. Frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett is in charge of producing a fantastic score full of beautiful songs sung by very talented people. There is also the “Please Mr. Kennedy” number, which I think you can find online, that is one of the funniest parts of the movie. Oh, that’s right, the movie is hilarious. I feel like this has been a meandering and not very good review, but listen, the movie is great. You should go see it. One of the year’s best. Ok, I’ll stop writing now.
Grade: 10 out of 10