MRR Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis"

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A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961
3.5

MRR Review: "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Rating: R
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: December 20, 2013
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Drama, Music

It is safe to say that, with classic hits such as "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," and "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers have mastered the art of writing and directing noir thrillers. That's why few people were surprised when the directing duo decided to switch gears and head in a different direction for their twenty-first film. The result of their efforts is "Inside Llewyn Davis," an American comedy-drama that moves at a distinctly slower pace but still sparkles with the creative directing that marks the Coen brand.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is set during the cold New York winter of 1961. The movie tells the story of a singer-songwriter, the eponymous Llewyn Davis, who is struggling to make something of his career. The film follows Davis, who carries little except his guitar and the quickly ebbing flames of hope, as he navigates and explores the music scene, trying to find the elusive break. This character piece is not about a musician trying to make it big; it is about a musician who is simply trying to make it at all against impossible odds. For Davis, who is constantly out on the road, the littlest things measure success: selling a record here or securing a gig there.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a movie that focuses as much on the internal struggles of the character as it does on the external struggles. Llewyn is haunted by demons. Every morning, he wrestles with his failed attempts at securing a record deal despite his obvious talent. He battles with the emotional loss of his former band mate, who committed suicide. The closest things he has to friends are his sister, who barely talks to him; a café manager; and an ex-lover and her husband, who are doing better than he is. The movie practically drips with its own melancholy, but that is why watching it such an amazing experience.

For the role of Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers made an inspired choice by picking Oscar Isaac, an American actor who in real life belongs to a band in which he plays the lead guitar. Isaac's performance brings remarkable depth to the character, drawing viewers in so deeply that they can feel his frustration when things do not go his way. Isaac's experience as a musician also comes in handy whenever he is on stage. For the collection of folk songs, the Coen Brothers turned to T-Bone Burnett, who worked with them on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The film also features songs by Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Dave Van Ronk. The result is a warm, passionate soundtrack that infuses the soulful acting of the cast with a faint bit of color, turning a good movie into a gorgeous film. Many viewers will be talking about the soundtrack long after they have left the cinema. Also included in the cast are Garret Hedlund, John Goodman, Dam Driver, Justin Timberlake, and Alex Karpovsky. The movie is shot with a faded look reminiscent of an album cover, a decision that was no doubt made to enhance the film's setting and theme.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is no vintage Coen film. The dialogue is simple, and the plot has very few twists. The story moves at a slow pace except for the scenes involving the cat. While some might struggle to identify the Coen brand, few people will have difficulty identifying with the film's subject, which is why this may just be best film the brothers have done yet.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is not a movie about triumph. It is a movie about perseverance. Above all, it is about finding the beauty in the smallest things in life—spending days walking the streets just to experience the exhilarating joy of playing in room packed with hundreds of listeners. That said, it is important to point out that "Inside Llewyn Davis" does not have much in the way of a plot. Most of the events take place over a week, following Davis from home to work and back. Describing the film during an interview, Joel Coen admitted to being worried about the lack of a plot: "…that's why we threw in the cat." Nevertheless, what the film does have is a clear message. As Llewyn Davis so aptly reveals with his life, sometimes simply having a message is more than enough.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5