The Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s is now as legendary and iconic to the music world as the late 40s and early 50s was to poetry. The film Inside Llewyn Davis follows a musician who is loosely based on the persona of the real-life folk singer Dave Van Ronk. The film shows the side of the folk scene that never really broke through in a financial or cultural sense at its time. The Coen brothers, now universally acknowledged as masters of their craft for their unique brand of humour and storytelling, depict the character of Llewyn Davis in a dark and personal manner. The film is a soulful lament for those unacknowledged artists and musicians who were never given the amount of respect and acclaim they deserved.
Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch) gives a great performance as the titular character, LLewyn Davis. He portrays a talented folk musician who is not exactly the gentlest or kindest soul but feels true to life. His rough edges are understandable, on a basic level, given his bad luck and lack of success. Isaac is joined by a talented cast including Carey Mulligan (Shame) as an ex-lover, Justin Timberlake (Social Network) as another folk singer, John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) and Garett Hedlund (Tron Legacy). Though the cast is big, most supporting characters don’t have that much screen time. This is the Oscar Isaac show and he shines.
Unfortunately the Coen brothers’ regular collaborator, the esteemed Roger Deakins, was unavailable due to scheduling conflicts. However, Bruno Delbonnel (Across the Universe) does an excellent job crafting a muted canvas. The cold wintery scenery offers a serene melancholy tone to the film. The musical score of the film which consists, mostly, of covers of folk legends such as Hedy West and traditional folk songs. Each time we are treated to a song, it is meticulously placed and expertly shot. The songs themselves are treated with a slight reverence that never feels overbearing. All of the cast members display their singing talents and the songs add a warmth and comfort that is purposefully absent in many scenes.
Inside Llewyn Davis is another great entry from the Coen brothers. Their ability to shift from genre to genre seamlessly, whether it be a western (True Grit), a crime epic (Miller’s Crossing) or their famous offbeat comedies (The Big Lebowski/Raising Arizona), is but one reason as to why they are masters of the craft. In Inside Llewyn Davis we find the balance of the Coen brothers’ special brand of humour combined with the dour reality that is Llewyn Davis’ life. The film can sometimes feel extremely melancholic, as the main character stumbles through hurtle after hurtle, almost always being put down in some way or another. However exhausting or sad the story may be, in the end the experience is rewarding and to a certain degree uplifting. For all the disappointment and disillusionment there is, the artist endures. Therefore, in a contradictory way, it is a somewhat hopeful film.
At this point in time a Coen Brothers film is always guaranteed to be well done; it’s just a matter of subjective taste that determines the degree to which you will enjoy a film of theirs. This film reinforces that trend. It is not quite as good as True Grit or No Country although that may just be because I enjoy the western/crime genre more than the music centered dramas. Whatever the case, one should need no convincing to watch this great film.