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Inside Llewyn Davis (Review 2)




Released: 24th January 2014

Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Like many of their fellow and illustrious auteurs, you’re never quite certain where Joel and Ethan Coen will pitch their ‘tent’ next in the vast field of established genres, as they continue to skewer the conventions. Gracing the ‘main stage’ with the Western-influenced stylistics of ‘No Country For Old Men’. Tapping into cinema’s back catalogue to unearth and remake beloved classics, with varying yet no less admirable results with ‘True Grit’ and ‘The Ladykillers’. In Oscar Isaac’s folk singer, have the directorial duo found their ‘headliner’?

The year 1961. The height of the Greenwich Village folk scene. A harsh winter may be engulfing the backdrop, bringing a bitter chill to the bones. No deterrent for our lead protagonist however, as he seeks the warmth of security and the validation of being so relentless in the pursuit of a dream. Slouching on couch to couch. Facing obstacle upon obstacle. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a classic case of a musician, at a crossroads with his flagging career.

Resigned to the demands of going solo after the tragic death of his musical partner and being a regular performer at modest venue ‘The Gaslight’, the lack of creative direction only accentuates Llewyn’s sudden underlying cynicism for an unforgiving business and the art form he’s forever embraced. The ill feeling has seeped into his relationships with fellow artists too, with no-nonsense yet slight frame of Carey Mulligan’s Jean (Justin Timberlake’s Jim her vocally sound other half) gaining top billing as the repercussions of a past meeting rear their ugly heads. Like much inspiration behind timeless hits, can Llewyn channel the downbeat nature of his current predicament to carve out the life he craves?

The desaturated and bleak tight-framed aesthetic juxtaposed with the melancholic tone driving home the psyche of its protagonist, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ sees the Coen Brothers once again far from burdened by the mainstream ‘pressure’, of providing Llewyn a firm narrative arc. Encountering an eclectic mix of figures on route all serving their own unique purpose (John Goodman’s slimeball big-shot Roland Turner an unnerving highlight), this is all about the journey.

Oscar Isaac’s pitch-perfect, self-destructive portrayal of cat-sitting Llewyn Davis brims with sincerity. A man corrupted by the hate in his heart and plagued by his obliviousness to the saturation and progression of the music scene. A distinctive and passionate voice yearning for airtime, with his nagging flaws limiting the establishment of an appreciative audience. Wrestling with the notion of merely existing as the dream remains unfulfilled, is the ‘thread’ we’re able to hang our empathy towards Llewyn on.

Peppered with the pitch-black humour that has graced many a Coens’ effort,  the sly wit underpins the film’s key ingredient. The richness of its soundtrack. With a helping hand from Marcus Mumford and T.Bone Burnett, on its own terms it is an exquisite listen. Poking fun at the novelty tracks that consistently grace the modern charts and perfectly capturing the authenticity of its genre, the visual aid only helps to trigger your neck hairs standing to attention.

Achingly beautiful and bittersweet in equal measure, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is another enthralling Coens’ masterclass that resonates and taps into the ‘creative artist’ that arguably lurks within us all.







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