Jan 122014

A talented musician lives day-to-day, relying on the favours and kindness of those who in some way care for him. He is relying on getting that big break, but what if that break is never going to come? My review of Inside Llewyn Davis after the jump

Llweyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a talented folk musician. He writes beautiful, soulful talents and once was part of a duo which had some small success. Llweyn is a drifter, a scavenger. He lives in hope that one day his break will come and he will make a real living as a musician. However what Llweyn doesn’t understand, but what others recognise, is that he doesn’t have the charisma, that personal connection with the audience, which is needed to really make it in the music business. He’s closed off, a sealed vessel which can’t be opened, one which lets no one in, not even those that deserve it.

Inside Llweyn Davis is one week in the life of this man, a bleak, rather sad character who is hard to connect with. It’s easy to recognise his talent, but it’s not as easy to reconcile with why he is such an asshole. His friends and family are weary – they love Llewyn, but he takes 100 times more than he gives back. He hops from couch to couch, pillaging gulps of milk, swiping morsels of food and stealing hours of sleep. He is no different from the cats he encounters during the course of the film.

Chances to change his life are passed over, but for what? Is it really in pursuit of his musical dream, or is he too scared to deviate? Is the pain of past losses keeping him from taking chances or is he simply just the type that can’t follow through? There is one point in the film when Llweyn really gets the chance to do something different, something that could be life-altering and meaningful, but he passes it up. He’s a hard character to like, but nonetheless you feel his pain, his tiredness with life.

The Coen brothers have created quite a different film with Inside Llweyn Davis. The protagonist is not wretched enough to despise, nor sympathetic enough to love. We are mere observers for one week of a life which feels like it is circling, doubling back on itself with little hope of change. Oscar Isaac embodies the weariness of the character pitch-perfectly; he feels tired, his soul is heavy and Isaac nails it. John Goodman has a small role in the film although I am a little confused as to the exact point of his character. He was needed for Llweyn to take a journey, but I’m still trying to work out why it had to happen the way it did. Carey Mulligan is excellent, though I can’t help but think her character was a little much. She was so filled with anger and negativity, an extreme in a film that was often so muted.

The folk music, full of heartbreak and broken dreams reflects those in the film, a mix of life’s optimists and those who have been beaten by living. While the music hasn’t lingered with me after the film, it works perfectly for the moments in which it is used. The cinematography is superb, and I can’t help but think that the Coens have a career in filming cats should they ever give up making films. The film looks as beautiful and as bleak as the lives of those it portrays. Dreary browns, dull greys and the somber colour of winter permeates almost every scene. The only really colours, the oranges and yellows of the 60s, come in the few scenes where Llweyn is surrounded by positivity, by those who see colour in their own lives.


By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writer(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Runtime: 104 minutes
Release date(s): USA: December 6 2013 (limited); Australia: January 16 2014; New Zealand: February 20 2013