Film Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

6571_poster_iphoneDirected by Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan & John Goodman

Oscar Isaac is one of those actors that everyone seems to recognise is talented and interesting but he’s never quite found his place. I think Isaac has that rare ability to stand out in and elevate weaker material or underwritten roles. In Ridley Scott’s forgettable Robin Hood, Isaac steals all of his scenes, displaying real screen presence. In Drive, his portrayal of briefly reformed criminal Standard Gabriel, lends much more weight and depth to what is on a very thin role on paper.

In Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac is superb. He plays the titular character, a folk singer who is hard on his luck, with a believable roughness. Once part of musical duo, Davis struggles through life, sleeping on the sofas of the few friends he hasn’t pissed off. Davis isn’t a particularly likable character; he’s kind of an asshole. Despite this, I couldn’t help wanting him to succeed and feeling frustration at his choices, and he’s a man with few. He either continues the music or follows the family tradition of tough Maritime work, work that has reduced his father to a husk.

The masterful Coen Brothers’ direction and the stunning cinematography bring a very realistic feel to the New York and Chicago of the early 60′s. The Coens possess an extraordinary talent for creating period settings that feel tangible, lived in. Every shot could be a painting or iconic photograph, it might sound like a contradiction, but the Coens have managed to create a world that feels authentic whilst borderline fetishistic with its New York subways and lonely snow filled highways.

Inside Llewyn Davis can easily be a companion piece with their 2009 film, A Serious Man. Like that film, Inside Llewyn Davis gently riffs, like folk guitar on existentialism. The film is a collection of tragic dramatic ironies, but despite this I wouldn’t call it a depressing film. All the other characters are drawn with fairly broad strokes, Mulligan doing her best with a fairly one-note character, but really this is Oscar Isaac’s film, his journey. In what is becoming something of a Coen Brothers trademark of late, the ending is open-ended. The film is a slice of life, one that’s tough but that ultimately feels real.


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