While I enjoy the huge powerhouse blockbuster films that come out each month there is nothing I enjoy more than an intimate film that I can fall in love with and The Coen brothers gave me just that with Inside Llewyn Davis. I am a huge fan of The Coen Bothers and have been for some time, they are the men behind some of my favorite movies. How do you even compete with films like Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading and the list goes on and on I mean every time I go bowling I want to be “The Dude” because The Big Lebowski is well, epic. Their films are always unique, stand apart from everyone else and have the most amazing and witty scripts out there, you can almost always point out a Coen Brothers film. That alone is something in this town.
Inside Llewyn Davis is described as follows: “The story follows a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis is at a crossroads. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles – some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn’s misadventures take him from the basket houses of the village to an empty Chicago club – on an odyssey to audition for music mogul Bud Grossman – and back again.”
When I sat down to watch this film I wholeheartedly expected to enjoy yet another Coen Brothers film but I did not expect to become completely smitten with Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Llewyn Davis. Llewyn is at his best full of heart, but he is also selfish, arrogant, unforgiving, cold, angry and sometimes just mean, yet you can’t help falling in love with him. He spends his life couch surfing desperately wanting to share his voice with the world but will only do so on his terms. His determination despite constant rejection from everyone in his life is what drives him. Llewyn can’t seem to catch a break whether in his personal life or when it comes to what he loves, his music, and you begin to wonder if he isn’t his own worst enemy. The times you can truly see into his soul are when he sings; it is beyond, the pain and struggle, the love for what he does and dreams of becoming pours through every note. Then there are the almost tender moments with an orange tabby cat that seems to almost mirror our dear Llewyn’s life. Oscar’s performance in this film is brilliant and his singing is soulful and tells a story of its own. If you didn’t know who Isaac was before this film you will never forget him now.
Carey Mulligan plays Jean a furious and beyond bitter former lover of Llewyn. There is an amazing scene where she tells Llewyn “Everything you touch turns to shit” and you have to almost laugh but this is their relationship, she is cruel but honest and underneath all the yelling you can see she truly cares about him. Mulligan is perfection in this role and shows her versatility as an actress by bringing fire to Jean. Jean’s boyfriend is Jim (Justin Timberlake) the two are a singing duo who are not afraid to go mainstream with their music if that means surviving, of course Llewyn despises this and isn’t shy about saying so.
In true Coen Brothers form the attention to details shines in each and every role no matter how big or small it is. Roland Turner is a coked up, wiseass jazz player played by John Goodman, who Llewyn hitches a ride with. Some of my favorite moments in the film were these scenes; the banter between Llewyn and Roland is exactly what I love in a Coen Brother script. Goodman as always gives a performance that will blow you away. F. Murray Abraham is a no-nonsense Bud Grossman that Llewyn meets as a last ditch effort to salvage his career.
Stark Sands is Troy Nelson a traveling soldier and folk singer that seems to have a wonderful outlook on life and much better luck than Llewyn. We see familiar faces like Adam Driver, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Alex Karpovsky and Jerry Grayson each bringing life and even laughs to this story.
As wonderful as the performances are, the true shining moments and center of the movie is in the music. Oscar’s voice is perfection and full of soul you get a real feel for who his character is not by his actions or life but through his singing where you begin to understand the love, passion and struggle in this mans life. I have never really been a folk fan but after Inside Llewyn Davis my appreciation for it has grown and this soundtrack is now a beloved treasure for me. The music is such a crucial part of this story the Coen Brothers worked with T-Bone Burnett and used not only the songs in their entirety but also the live footage shot while filming the movie instead of pre-recorded studio pieces. T-Bone said he would not had considered doing this, using the live music, with any other filmmakers. While Mulligan, Timberlake & Stark bring in a soothing rendition of “Five Hundred Miles”, Isaac, Timberlake & Driver bring a little bit of fun with “Please Mr. Kennedy”, but when Oscar Isaac sings “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and “ Fare The Well (Dink’s Song)” it is enough to move me to tears.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautiful and soulful portrait of a struggling artist and I dare you not to fall in love with it.
Be sure to check out my interviews with the cast by clicking on the links on their names.