Like previous Coen Brothers’ films such as The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man, Inside Llewyn Davis feels very much like a film about nothing. That’s not to say it’s without substance, far from it, it simply glides from one moment to the next without much thought for any overarching conceit or impending tragedy. The film takes place over the course of a week in the life of a down-on-his-luck folk singer, following him as he struggles to fulfil his own dream of being a successful musician.
The film opens with the titular character playing a song in its entirety in a small dark venue to a somewhat ambivalent crowd. This sets a slow pace that, whilst sounding unappealing, actually feels calming. All the music seen on screen was recorded live on set, an oddity in film production, working to create a sense of immersion and honesty. Although not a genre picture in any sense, at times one might easily mistake it for a musical. There’s a song every ten minutes and some are really quite good.
It’s hard to sell this film without it sounding boring or pretentious, but those familiar with the Coen Brothers and their unique blend of comedy and pathos will have an idea of what to expect. In truth there’s very little wrong with Inside Llewyn Davis. It doesn’t necessarily aim high in its scope, but it’s executed with a pinpoint accuracy that leaves a very satisfying feeling. Llewyn’s actor, Oscar Isaac, nails the role. We hear throughout the movie, especially from Carey Mulligan’s Jean, about how much of deadbeat and an ass he is. His performance is pitched somewhere between manchild and charming, so it’s believable that the people who surround him are both reviled and enchanted by him. Worth a mention are turns from the offensively talented Justin Timberlake as a fellow folk musician. Selling out with a novelty space race song, Goodbye Mr. Kennedy – the standout tune on an already impressive soundtrack. Not to mention John Goodman reuniting with the Coens as an old man in the back of a car.
Although robbed by the Oscars in the major categories this year, Bruno Delbonnel has been rightfully nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and he should win.If not for the sheer beauty of this film, for the grievous error of not recognising either Isaac or the Brothers Coen and their respective contributions. It’s hard to recommend this film any more. It is perfect in its own way and the way the ending wraps around to the beginning leaves you feeling as if you could just have this running on a constant loop in the background all day. Its pacing sags a touch when our hero leaves for Chicago, but it quickly picks back up and ends on a truly rewarding note.