Inside Llewyn Davis is a well-done character study that fits perfectly into the Coen Brothers canon. Although the folk scene of 1960s Greenwich Village provides the context for the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis is a revealing look at the life of a starving artist in any time period.
Oscar Isaac stars as Llewyn Davis, a struggling musician in 1960s New York. The film covers a week in his life as he fills time between gigs and finding a decent place to sleep. Davis’ lackadaisical lifestyle leads him around New York and into nearby cities, where he hopes to find support for his music and for himself.
The plot can hardly be detailed further without taking emphasis away from the real story: Llewyn Davis. For close to two hours, the audience watches this man interact with friends, musicians, agents, highway adventurers, and women. He sings you his songs and you wait for him to break on through to another side of his life, but that’s not the story that Inside Llewyn Davis wants to tell. It challenges the audience to care for a man who is far from sympathetic—he may even be fairly terrible—but you can’t help but hope for a positive outcome.
The film rests on the shoulders of Isaac, who does an excellent job of bringing this singer to life. You can feel Davis’ internal struggle through Isaac’s eyes and the way he carries himself. Isaac’s role was not as showy as many of the roles that are usually celebrated by critics and awards groups, but he successfully brings a character to life through actually being this character.
One of the main features of the film is the music. The Coens respect Llewyn Davis enough to allow him to play his songs in their entirety. Isaac shines in his passionate, pure singing. Davis’ closest contemporary counterpart might have been Joan Baez, although there’s also an implied comparison to Bob Dylan. Another highlight is when Davis takes part in a studio session with Justin Timberlake’s character and they perform the goofy political song “Please Mr. Kennedy”. It’s in this scene that the collaborative magic of music becomes apparent, and might be the only time that the film can be called fun.
This is the Coen brothers’ 16th collaboration, and the depth of their experience is apparent. The film had some of the most stunning cinematography I’ve seen. The scenes of Davis performing in a New York bar are breathtaking, with a spotlight shining on Davis in the smoky room. The storytelling is also sure of itself, despite the lack of big plot. This is the type of film the Coens have often worked towards, whittling away at any overt quirk in order to tell a good story. They capture great performances from every member of their principal cast, and one of their regular collaborators, John Goodman, shone in a small but hilarious role.
Inside Llewyn Davis is an odyssey of ordinary life. If you have any interest in character studies, ’60s music, or great pieces of cinema, go to your local theatre and watch Inside Llewyn Davis. MMMMM