Genre: Drama, Music
Directed by: Ethan and Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
Few directors have such a firm grasp on their medium that they are able to wholly immerse you in their world and fewer still can achieve it with their establishing shot. Yet from the moment you cast your eyes on the microphone sitting centre stage in The Gaslight Café, the Coen Brothers draw you deep in to their treatise of the 1960s folk scene in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Like the music sung by its eponymous musician, Inside Llewyn Davis is a profoundly moving piece that’s perfectly pitched and a joy to experience.
The Coens have always taken keen delight in exploring the life of losers, their hapless heroes forming the centerpieces for wider studies of various domestic relationships. Llewyn Davis is a folksinger navigating Greenwich Village’s illustrious folk scene, couch surfing between friends and acquaintances, many of which are growing ever wearier of his prolonged presence in their lounges. Over the course of a week, Llewyn attempts to further his career while also contending with various obstacles involving unplanned pregnancies and unwanted felines.
From Blood Simple’s Loren Visser to True Grit’s Rooster Cogburn, the Coens have always drawn their stories with richly layered characters and as is to be expected, Llewyn Davis is one peppered with various quirky personalities. Coen stalwart John Goodman injects subtle laughs as a Jazz musician who balances his time between sleeping and berating Llewyn’s chosen musical genre, while Carey Mulligan proves to have similarly spectacular talents for both swearing and singing as the joyously vicious Jean.
Davis himself may be perpetually melancholy and prone to despondent outbursts, but he’s also eminently likeable. Much of this is down to Oscar Isaac’s naturally assured performance. He may have many flaws – “everything you touch turns to shit, you’re like King Midas’s idiot brother” spits Jean – but Llewyn has such inescapable misfortune that you can’t help rooting for him. Many of the film’s finest moments come when Llewyn encounters and is eventually saddled with a friend’s ginger cat, who turns out to be one of the musician’s smallest problems and also the one that’s hardest to control.
Then there’s Llewyn’s vocal talents that further enriches our understanding of him and adds poignant layers to his plight. Isaac’s singing ability is second to none. From ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ to his solo version of ‘Dink’s Song’, the music helps Llewyn express the emotions that forever gather within him. Full credit must go to the film’s music producer T Bone Burnett, who pitches his soundtrack to be perfectly in tone with the story. Isaac’s duet with Justin Timberlake’s Jim entitled ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ jubilantly captures the folk genre’s boisterous highpoints, while the film’s undoubted highlight is a wonderfully wistful rendition of ‘Five Hundred Miles’ that also happens to be the only musical number that displays Mulligan’s exceptional singing voice.
As you’d expect from the Coens, it’s a beautiful film to gaze upon. From the never-ending winding roads that connect New York and Chicago, to the perpetually smoke-filled basement of the Gaslight Café, it’s a film that’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of. Fused with the fantastic performances and superb songs, Inside Llewyn Davis is another sterling effort from these prolific cinematic siblings; it’s a folking masterpiece!