Following the week in the life of a down on his luck folk singer, Llewyn Davis, in the winter of 61′, we glide around NYC (and beyond) as he might be reaching the point in his career where he might not be able to go on with it any longer. Llewyn encounters many obstacles, and nearly as many couches, along the way as the Coen’s create an engaging world full of interesting characters that may or may not be helping Llewyn figure it all out.
There isn’t a plot or grand revelation in the film, but the Coen’s beautifully tell this tale so that every step of Llewyn’s journey ends up informing where Llewyn ends up, emotionally, in the end. Or was that the beginning? The film is very episodic in nature and every time Llewyn is in a new “bed” you are usually in a new chapter of the tale. While not a whole lot connects these moments outside Llewyn’s presence, the Coen’s do a fantastic job of keeping the film tonally balanced throughout. Every segment is kind of funny, kind of sad and you will find yourself shaking your head at Llewyn’s decisions, many times throughout the picture. That isn’t to say Llewyn is unlikable, Oscar Isaac is wonderful and charismatic in the part, but he never is making the decisions you think he should/is going to make. The film is all the better for it. I never knew where this was going and I loved discovering the world and the characters along with Llewyn It’s amazing how surprising the film can be without ever being shocking. It’s passive even, which is surprising for a film today, and the film as a whole feels unlike just about anything you will find. That’s what you expect from the Coen’s though, right? Most importantly, the film is full of interesting looking people sitting behind a desk, a staple of all Coen brother films.
The music in the film is fantastic. Isaac as Llewyn is an incredible performer and any fan of folk will enjoy all of his big moments. The Coen’s aren’t afraid to poke a little fun at the genre either, as they give you a wide variety of folk talent playing at the Gaslight. Most of the songs are re-purposed folk songs for our fictional characters, but I think the performers in the film more than make them their own. They range from somber wails to catchy pop songs and I can’t imagine you won’t want to rush out and buy the soundtrack afterward.
Oscar Isaac carries the film on his own, he’s in every scene, and I am ecstatic that he was given a breakout role like this. I have enjoyed his work every time he popped up over the last few years and he doesn’t disappoint when given the spotlight here. Not only are his musical chops legit, but he captures the Coen’s sense of humor wonderfully and is one of the directors’ best heroes in their diverse catalog. Everyone else in the film has no more than a couple of scenes opposite Isaac, but most everyone helps elevate the film. Carey Mulligan is actually one of the more average pieces of the film, but I think that is more in part to the one note nature of her character than her acting abilities. Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver provide some excellent dopey humor and help secure “Please Mr. Kennedy” as one of the highlights of the film. John Goodman and F. Murray Abraham both bring their expected excellence to the picture and both are quite humorous as well. Garrett Hedlund, surprisingly, doesn’t sing, but he is great at providing the film with an air of mystery and WTF’ness that I love from the Coens. The rest of the cast is sprinkled with familiar and new faces, but like always in a Coen film they seem born for the part.
The way the Coen’s flip your perspective on the film at the end forces you to reexamine everything differently, and the film loses a bit of its sadness when you realize you were actually watching Llewyn on his way back up and not tumbling down. The simple addition of just a couple bits of dialogue and one extra song in that final scene absolves Llewyn, a bit, and shows he has grown over the film. Llewyn gets brought down to next to nothing and at the end we see that he might be crawling out of the ashes. Nothing is certain, but it’s a great little “twist” by the Coens.
Inside Llewyn Davis might throw you off a bit, but you won’t stop thinking about any time soon after. It’s a movie you just can’t wait to see again and I am sure it’s going to only improve on future viewings. The Coens have done it again, Oscar Isaac is a star and you can add Inside Llewyn Davis to the pile of great films in 2013.
Inside Llewyn Davis is an A