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'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013) - Film Review

inside-llewyn-davis-2013-film-review

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake

When Joel and Ethan Coen release a film, you know more often than not that you're in for a treat, and Inside Llewyn Davis does not disappoint. This is not your typical Coen movie however. Its overall tone is quite subdued and the often common lashings of black humour are scant. That said, many familiar elements remain: the loser/loner as a star, the unusual storytelling and the period authenticity.

It's 1961 and Llewyn Davis is a struggling Greenwich Village folk musician. He has no money, his prospects are slim and, to be fair, is a mediocre talent void of feelings. This applies both to his performances and his personal relationships. In fact, this trait does him no favours whatsoever throughout the course of the movie. Inside Llewyn Davis gives us a snapshot week-in-the-life of the titular character, seeing him couch surfing his nights between barely tolerant acquaintances, whilst by day, making half-hearted attempts to secure recording contracts and work. At no point do you find this man dislikeable - the character (and by virtue Isaac) is infinitely watchable - but he does absolutely no favours for himself. You could say he was selfish but he can't even manage that. This is ultimately a character study of a limited person, and even if you don't feel sorry for him, you do feel sad that his character flaws appear to restrict his whole life. What's worse here is that he shows no sign of improvement - not even an inkling.

So, on that positive note, is there anything good about this movie? Well yes, and amongst the standout performances, carefully measured pacing and a ginger cat, there's also the music. Oscar Isaac's performances of a number of late Fifties/early Sixties folk standards is magnificent. Here the Coens have taken the decision to show performances of songs in their entirety, and this gives the movie the feeling of watching an intimate gig rather than have clips reduced to a montage sequence to speed up the movie. Inside Llewyn Davis is deliberate in it's slow development, but it is no less gripping in order to capture the mundane and the narrow timeline the story's events slip into. This is another triumph for the Coens, engaging storytelling and character depth. A flawless movie about a flawed person.

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© 2018 Chris Sandles