Arts Review, Movies

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis featured image

Joel and Ethan Coen, co-directors and writers

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis), Carey Mulligan (Jean), John Goodman (Roland), Garrett Hedlund (Johnny), Justin Timberlake (Jim), F. Murray Abraham (Bud Grossman), Stark Sands (Troy), Adam Driver (Al Cody), Max Casella (Pappi)

The buzz

The Coen Brothers’ new film had its debut at Cannes, where it garnered the Grand Prix. Over the fall, it attracted attention at film festivals ranging from New York to Torino. Now, it’s getting nominations and wins in year-end film critics’ polls. Late weekend, The Toronto Film Critics Association chose Inside Llewyn Davis as best Film and Oscar Isaac as best Actor for 2013.

The genres

Comedy-drama set in the 1960s folk music scene; character study; musical

The premise

The Coens have admitted that the film doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a serious folk musician, who is living a hand-to-mouth existence in Greenwich Village in 1961. To put it mildly, it’s not a good week.

During that time, Davis scrapes together enough money to pay for an abortion for the girl he shouldn’t love—because she’s married to his best friend. He loses the cat who belongs to a Columbia University prof and his wife, who always take him in when he needs shelter. He fights with his sister and almost joins the Merchant Marines. He records a hit song and signs away the rights for enough money to pay for the abortion. And he travels to Chicago to try out with the top folk-song agent in the country, who tells him that he should abandon being a solo act.

Did I mention that he gets beaten up in an alley? He does.

But Llewyn Davis is not a loser despite what others say about him. He’s a talented soulful singer and excellent guitarist. He hangs in through all of it, with his dignity and artistry intact. As viewers we get to see inside Llewyn Davis—and it’s not a bad place to be.

The performances

The Coen Brothers always cast well. Here, the key was to find someone who could be Llewyn Davis—a genuine musician and a strong enough actor to be persuasive in a leading role. Oscar Isaac is superb as Davis; the role is perfect for him. His sad countenance is beautifully used by the Coens to evoke a quiet sympathy towards the Davis character throughout the film.

The other remarkable performance is given by John Goodman, playing a dissolute jazz musician. Goodman is hilarious as an over-the-top egotist who never stops haranguing Llewyn throughout a long car ride from New York to the Mid-west.

The Coen Brothers…

…are consistently entertaining, intelligent and gifted filmmakers. The major criticism of them is that they can be too cool and cerebral. But with Oscar Isaac as an emotional counterpoint to the conceptual Coens, a balance has been created, making…

The skinny

Inside Llewyn Davis the best Coen Brothers film since True Grit. The Toronto Film Critics Association voted it the best of the film of the year—and, yes, Inside Llewyn Davis was first on my ballot. It’s the best film of 2013.

*Photo from*

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