Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive), Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)
Writers/Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen (Fargo)
Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes
Release Date: 6 December (US), 24 January (UK)
The Coen Brothers are very unique filmmakers. Often imitated but never duplicated, their films stand against the usual conventions of cinema but, through some strange magic, almost always come through looking great. But like many, they aren’t perfect and can fumble the ball. Is Inside Lleywn Davis another one of their classics, or should this be filed with such missteps as the remake of The Ladykillers?
Inside Lleywn Davis, like many Coen Brothers films, isn’t particularly focused on plot. Instead, it is about character, particularly our titular one. The week or so we spend in the life of Lleywn Davis (Isaac) isn’t particularly eventful; you could almost imagine he goes through this same cycle over and over again, and the film somewhat suggests that with the symmetrical structure it has. But again like most Coen Brothers films, the film remains interesting because of all the colourful characters and situations he finds himself in. It is ultimately a film about much life can suck when you try to follow a dream, enough to the point it can make that dream seem undesirable, yet the path remains inescapable. It’s a depressing but humble message; one that shows you the problems of this lifestyle but never outright tells you it isn’t worth it.
Oscar Isaac has been lurking around in supporting roles for several years now, always delivering a great performance even when stuck with sub-par material. Finally given a chance in the spotlight, he doesn’t disappoint. Llewyn Davis isn’t the most likable of characters, often completely unlikable, but Isaac’s performance keeps you on his side. He is a fallible man; one whose poor life isn’t completely his fault but he doesn’t do much to help. He remains sympathetic enough to be interesting, but flawed enough to not be boring. The rest of the cast is sporadic in appearance, even when played by recognisable faces, but all deliver the goods. Carey Mulligan gets to play outside her usual wheelhouse and astounds with a performance full of vitriol and expletives. John Goodman has a small role that is provides some of that trademark Coen humour, and its always nice to see that F. Murray Abraham still exists. Garret Hedlund gets across a lot whilst doing very little; his stoic role as Goodman’s valet is often humorous because of how little he does. Justin Timberlake isn’t in too much of the movie, but when he’s there he does well. I think Timberlake is actually much better when playing a supporting role, and considering how his last few attempts at being a leading man played out, I think he should stick to being a second banana.
Usual Coen Brothers DOP Roger Deakins was too busy filming Skyfall when this film was made, but regardless Inside Llewyn Davis looks beautiful. The way the film captures winter is just astounding; you can feel the cold breezing onto you as you watch. As a film about music, you’d hope that the film delivers some good songs and luckily it does. Isaac does all his own singing here, and he’s adept enough at it that it comes across as believable. The songs themselves are catchy in that country music way, though they do clog together in the mind afterwards. As Davis himself quips: “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song”.
Inside Lleywn Davis isn’t one of the Coen Brothers best, but it is far from their worst. It features all of their trademarks and remains an interesting ride throughout, though it doesn’t quite rank up there with the classics like The Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Art Thou?. But considering how large a collection of films they’ve made, it must be getting pretty hard for them to top themselves every time. I hope they keep on filming, for whatever strange method they use to make their films, it works.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10