UK Release Date: 24th January 2014
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund
Synopsis: A struggling folk singer in New York ambles along as he attempts to breathe some life into his musical career as he moves between dingy folk clubs and his friend’s sofas.
When nominations for the 2014 Oscars were announced, there was a glaring omission in the shape of the Coen Brothers’ latest critically acclaimed hit Inside Llewyn Davis. Tipped for success in many of the big categories, the film walked away with only a couple of technical nominations.
The film is now out in UK cinemas, and it’s a beguiling piece of work that mixes incredible highs with very disappointing lows.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is struggling to mount a successful folk music career after the suicide of his former duet partner. He spends his nights gigging in clubs before sleeping on the sofas of various friends including musical duo Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan). Amidst missing cats and ill-fated trips to Chicago, Llewyn continues to play out his cynical, unfortunate existence.
The first thing to say about Inside Llewyn Davis is that it is visually unique. Director of Photography Bruno Delbonnel gives the whole film a grey and brown, washed out palette reminiscent of Roger Deakins’ work on Prisoners, which is also Oscar-nominated. It’s a bleak image that shows how Llewyn sees the world: grey and without hope.
| "You should be wearing condom on condom. And then wrap it in electrical tape. You should just walk around always, inside a great big condom."
Oscar Isaac is a revelation in the central role. He combines his character’s cynicism with vulnerability and an intensity that comes through when misfortune hits, as it often does.
Isaac is surrounded by a supporting cast that includes a fantastic Carey Mulligan, playing against type to hilariously acerbic effect, and John Goodman in a short-lived role as a heroin-addicted jazz musician who spends more time sleeping than speaking.
The real strength of the film is its musical sequences. The Coens have done two things right: the cast of Inside Llewyn Davis sing live, Les Mis style, and the full songs play out in unbroken takes. This gives these scenes a performance quality that serves the film well, showcasing the raw power of Oscar Isaac’s voice and T Bone Burnett’s brilliant arrangements of classic folk tracks.
| "If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song."
Unfortunately, Inside Llewyn Davis is definitely not an unqualified success. It has an aimless quality to it that means it feels almost unfinished. Plot strands are opened, but never complete themselves as we amble through life with Llewyn.
An ongoing plot strand involving a missing cat is especially odd, as it feels important and almost certainly holds the key to the movie, yet it remains frustratingly opaque. Ambiguity is a great thing for cinema to have, but sometimes a little more explanation is required.
Inside Llewyn Davis feels like a puzzle without an answer. With so many great elements, the finished product should be great, but in the end, it’s far more of a bumpy ride. Llewyn would probably shrug.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a lot to enjoy in Inside Llewyn Davis. The musical sequences are entertaining and raw, powered by a series of very strong acting performances courtesy of Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan.
This is the Coens at the top of their directorial game, conjuring a truly unique visual style.
Unfortunately, there are elements in the film that don’t quite add up, leaving the experience a lot like a journey that takes a long time, but never really goes anywhere.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.