Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Runtime: 104 minutes
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb): A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961
Inside Llewyn Davis is an odd film, one part approachable and light-hearted and one part dark and unforgiving – as a film about folk music, I suppose this is entirely apt. Llewyn’s story is like a folk song, he’s a struggling musician failing to make it big as a solo artist after his old partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. This is a film that tells a simple tale about trying to make it in the music business, but with enough complications along the way to keep it interesting.
As Inside Llewyn Davis is a Coen brother’s film, characters are the call of the day, and there are plenty of characters to enjoy here – all acted fantastically well. Oscar Isaac’s titular Llewyn is tired, and has nowhere permanent to live, but he carries himself with a brashness and confidence ever-present in Coen brother’s protagonists. The brashness and confidence in these characters allows for quick-witted quips and good humour, from all involved.
Indeed, Inside Llewyn Davis is a funny film, but not hilarious. The funniest the film gets however is in its second act, when John Goodman comes in as Roland Turner the passenger in the car Llewyn hitchhikes in to get to Chicago to play a song for a big mover in the music industry in order to get a record deal. This middle part of the film is really rather good – as is the major stumbling block in Llewyn’s week. Through most of the film, Llewyn is left looking after a cat he let escape – there are many theories out there on the true meaning of the cat, but even taken at face-value it supplies a nice amount of tame drama and tension for the main character.
However, for those hoping for a large amount of drama, Inside Llewyn Davis will likely leave you feeling slightly disappointed. Most aspects of the film feel a little light to be honest. There are light elements of drama, light elements of comedy and light amounts of darker elements in the storytelling – overall the film is a pleasant watch despite its darker, more depressing trappings, and I think this is thanks to a few aspects.
Firstly, and I’m sure most people will notice this – the cinematography is really rather good. Without regular director of photography Roger Deakins, Bruno Delbonnel more than aptly fills in. The film has a slightly hazy look to it, the use of a soft focus and relatively low contrast makes for a wholly unique look, but one that really works with the film – it almost looks like a flashback, but for the whole runtime. As good as the cinematography is, the script is even better.
Some may find the dryness of the whole affair a tad dull, but I loved it. The humour was spot on, the characters were brilliant and the conversations between them all are pitch-perfect – but not as pitch-perfect as the music. The music is the star of the show here, and each performance from all involved really impressed. At times, the vocal performances make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, who knew Oscar Isaac had such a powerful voice?
As good as the songs, humour, cinematography and characters are in the film, I did think the overall tone was a little messy, and I was unsure whether to root for Llewyn or not throughout the film – but I think this was intentional, as an allegory of folk music. Folk music is full of tales of failure and strugglers, probably because of how hard it is to make it big as a folk artist, and Inside Llewyn Davis represents this beautifully. As far as films about folk music go, Inside Llewyn Davis is the best you can get.
Whether you like folk music or not, I assure you that you will like Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s amusing, a little dark, joyous to watch and beautiful to listen to. The only things holding it back from being a masterpiece are its slightly uneven tone and general light-feel – I’m sure some will love it for its understated elements though.