Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
A week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Isaac) in a cold 1961 New York winter, he has the musical talent, but not the social or professional skills to match. As he tries to succeed in the Greenwich Village folk scene, alternating between sleeping on various people’s sofas and seemingly to continue making enemies, Llewyn faces increasing obstacles as he remains determined to pursue his dream.
Two things are for sure when it comes to the brothers Coen: They do love to vary the genre and style of their films, and they do love to create a hapless protagonist. With Llewyn Davis they have created another memorable protagonist who is certainly flawed with many unlikable qualities, but yet thanks to great writing and acting emerges as often sympathetic.
As we essentially spend a week with Llewyn Davis which seems to be just as difficult as any other week of his life, he frustrates, but yet his actions often feel justified. His goals are ultimately universal and there is always integrity in his intentions. He does admittedly sometimes not exactly help himself, but it is often his pride that comes before a fall and in some ways his determination despite all the obstacles he faces help in part to make him a compelling protagonist.
As Davis, Oscar Isaac has a perfectly soulful voice and magnificent charisma. Isaac’s mere facial expressions often capture perfectly the frustration and disillusionment that Llewyn Davis experiences. As per usual the Coens create with meticulous attention to detail a genuine feeling of time and place, and the use of music certainly feels an integral part of the narrative, while the cinematography adds to the feeling of the bitter cold melancholia of winter.
It is not all doom and gloom, and the script has plenty of subtle humour to match the Coen’s trademark of quirky and endearing supporting characters. Industry types, less talented fellow performers and non-musical friends in awe of his talent all come and go throughout the narrative, they at times break up the feeling melancholia but also add to it in equal measure. The exchanges of dialogue between Davis and pregnant-with-his-baby-but-girlfriend=of-another-musician Jean (Mulligan) and condescending Jazz musician Roland Turner (Goodman) are written and delivered with particular sting and zest, with every line packing a punch. However for me the standout supporting character is a ginger cat, that keeps coming and going out of Davis’ life and plays an integral part of the protagonist’s and our emotional journey during the narrative.
I myself know very little about this genre of music or just how much this film resembles the true story of another folk singer, but that did not matter as the film is never preachy and the natural affection the Coen’s put into the film is obvious throughout. There perhaps may be subtle swipes on the nature of the music industry that those with more knowledge than me of it will pick up on, but that does not matter. However Inside Llewyn Davis has at its heart some very universal themes, making for a consistently watchable and involving experience. Though not up there with the Coen’s very best, in Llewyn Davis they have created another memorable and sympathetic screw-up that I was more than happy to spend 100 minutes with and ultimately root for.
Made and acted with skill, verve and passion; Inside Llewyn Davis is another genuinely involving protagonist piece from the Coens.