Doesn’t everybody know a version of Llewyn Davis? Set in 1961, Inside Llewyn Davis shows us one week in the life of a struggling folk musician. Llewyn has certainly been dealt some blows from the world. With his performance partner having recently jumped to his death from what one character claims to be “the wrong bridge”, we follow Llewyn over the space of one week whilst he tries to make money, get signed as musician and make a mends for earlier mistakes and betrayals. What we ultimately watch Llewyn do, as he moves from couch to couch of friends and acquaintances, is try to cling on to the very edges of society. Living on the brink, Llewyn seems to be both a suffering artist and a lazy loser. Inside Llewyn Davis deals with an individual whom we root for but don’t sympathise with. His personal struggles and scenarios seem predominantly self-inflicted and Llewyn, in a bitter and narcissistic bubble, is apparently too content and weak to change them. The film raises some interesting questions about what it is to be a man and what it is to be a musician. I sympathised with the protagonists longing to succeed creatively, but not with his rejection of responsibility and reliance upon his friends for a consistent level of generosity.
Oscar Isaac, previously unfamiliar to me except from a great but short performance in Drive, gives an astonishingly subtle and complex performance as Davis. Isaac manages to do something rare and wonderful – he brings the deepest demons of his character to the surface for all to see, whilst also succeeding comically in several scenes. A performance such as this, in most cases, would be the best thing about the film if it wasn’t for an aesthetic and artistic consistency that the Coen Brothers bring to almost all of their work. The entire film revolves around Davis who is present in every scene. Terrific performances also come from Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake but all are on screen for a mere sliver of the total time that Isaac is. With the film revolving around the folk music scene, the Coen Brothers made the decision to record most of the musical performances live. This, along with Bruno Delbonnel’s exceptional and beautifully textured cinematography work, gives Inside Llewyn Davis that organic feel that we have come to expect from Ethan and Joel Coen.
As well as a particular cinematic appearance that we associated with the two brothers’ work, there is also a playfulness with narrative that leaks into Inside Llewyn Davis as well as some of their other great films. There is a danger here of saying too much and ruining one of the film’s most charming and surprising elements but it is important to say that the Coen Brothers will always delight and astonish you, even in their films’ final moments.Inside Llewyn Davis hit very close to home for me for a number of reasons. It sounds odd to state such a thing when this film is set in a time and place so unfamiliar to me but the overall human issues of creativity, freedom, success, betrayal, passion and failure that the film deals with left me emotionally moved; striking a deep, personal chord. Inside Llewyn Davishighlights the vicious cycle created by personal failure and self-loathing. Hopefully, it will remind you, as it did me, of certain people in your life who are helpless due to their own lack of fire and the poisonous indulgence taken in their failures. This is a sad, blunt, cold story told in a mesmerising and eloquent way.
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