INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberland, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, Max Casella, F. Murray Abraham
If you are involved in the arts in some fashion, you are probably familiar with that vagabond that is looking for his next gig traveling from place to place and bumming couches when needed. Llewyn Davis (Isaac) is at that point in his career. He used to perform as a singing duo with his friend Mike who recently committed suicide. Since Mike’s death, Llewyn has been trying to make it as a solo artist playing at the Gaslight Cafe to get noticed. His latest album “Inside Llewyn Davis” is not selling well, but his lackluster agent did supposedly mail it off to Chicago producer Bud Grossman (Abraham).
In the one week the film spans, Llewyn cannot seem to catch a break. He learns he may have gotten his friend Jean (Mulligan) pregnant even though she is currently dating fellow musician Jim (Timberlake). After staying at a different couple’s place, a cat gets loose when Llewyn leaves so he now feels in charge of taking care of it as it was his fault. He is completely broke and decides to hitchhike to Chicago to meet with Bud Grossman, which hits a few roadblocks along the way.
Joel and Ethan Coen have written many oddball characters in their canon of work. We get a few of them here but due to the way the film is structured they have brief appearances in Llewyn’s life. John Goodman is a Coen staple and his take on Roland Turner provides for some good laughs even for the brief about of screen time he has been given. Adam Driver (TV’s “Girls”) is another standout adding the bass notes to the hilarious “Please Mr. Kennedy” track Llewyn, Jim, and his character record. Have I mentioned that Llewyn is a self-obsessed, angry, disgruntled guy that is hard to root for? Add this character to the every-growing list of movies where the central character has some serious issues. August: Osage County, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street are just a few examples. Some of his own misfortunes come from the bad choices he is making. He has ruined his relationship with Jean who rips him a new one every time they have an encounter. The interesting thing about this character is that I somehow felt like I knew him. Maybe it is because I know people that have gone through similar situations where you want them to improve and make better choices, but they do not seem to grow. Oscar Isaac succeeds tremendously at playing that narcissistic prick side of him, but still making him human enough where the audience can understand where he is coming from in life. You may not always agree with his choices, but there is still something about him that you do want him to succeed and learn from his misfortunes. I cannot imagine anyone else is this role.
I could not help but notice the particular use of lighting and shadow effects and the way the film always had this cold and smoky effect to it. You knew instantly it was a bleak and dreary winter week. I had assumed I was watching the camera work of Roger Deakins who normally shoots all of the Coen’s films. I was surprised to find out that Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) was the man behind the camera. Deakins was still shooting Skyfall at the time production started. The film’s setting in 1961 Greenwich Village, New York is exquisitely captured by Delbonnel. Not only did it fit the actual weather in Greenwich Village, but also the mood and tone of the central character. I feel like the cinematographer of a movie rarely gets the credit they deserve, yet they are such a vital part of capturing the tone and vision of the movie and bringing it to life.
What I appreciate about the Coens is how diverse and eclectic their films are. When you look at their body of work, you see a diverse palette of stories, characters, themes, and genres yet they retain their vision in every one. You can look at each film and know that it is the work of Joel and Ethan Coen. They have had a string of hits lately with True Grit, A Serious Man, and Oscar winner No Country for Old Men. Inside Llewyn Davis is another strong move for them. The real highlight of the film is the folk music produced by T. Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart, TV’s “Nashville”) and Marcus Mumford. It stands as the soul of the story as it not only enriches each scene, but delves into the inner spirit of Llewyn Davis when his outer disposition is less than cheery. After the movie was over, I was a little perplexed as I wanted more story behind it. I love the premise and setting of the 1960s folk scene and a singer trying to make it as a solo performer, but I wanted more out of it. There are some great supporting characters, but we only see them for a brief amount of time. The film is recommendable, but for some reason I could never fully dive right in and have the film take me over like other films of the Coens have done to me.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)