Thursday, 30 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis Review

I love folk music and I love the Coen brothers. I am completely smitten. I have long admired Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and what they have offered the realm of cinema. I am in love with Fargo still until this day, and they've provided solid efforts on nearly every outing since. Their newest endeavour that focuses on the folk scene in 1961 is an absolute dream. Everything from the impeccable Oscar Isaac to the music that enriches the deepest trenches of the soul, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the best pictures of the year, plain and simple. It's the Coen Brothers finest film since Fargo.

In some ways, this is a perfect fit for the Coen’s. They’ve showed their love for music in O Brother, Where Art Thou’s outstanding soundtrack, they’ve shown they can write an interesting, if flawed character that we still want to root for in every Coen film ever and they’ve shown they can write a film in which nothing happens but everything is interesting. Everything is slow, but very, very rewarding.

Inside Llewyn Davis is all of these things. All of this is encapsulated by Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis. Put simply, without him there is no film. He is the brain of the piece. His character is not a likeable character, it is heavily flawed. He makes bad decisions, he uses people and he doesn’t particularly like humans. This is, in part, is down to the Coen’s excellent writing, but Oscar Isaac plays this exquisitely. He moulds such an interesting character (he really takes it by the horns) that we’re invested straight from the first scene where he’s playing at the famous Gaslight.

Llewyn is nothing if not complex. The movie does a terrific job of avoiding the usual clich├ęs, such as a down-on-his-luck musician catching a lucky break, or a bitter man having a quick change of heart. It's not that Llewyn is constantly sneering at everyone, holding his poverty up as both a shield and a trophy, it's that he is so multilayered that when he does a kind act or offers some praise or thanks, we don't feel that his doing so is in any way out of character. Llewyn is a self-tortured soul, but unlike caricatures of wandering folkies, he is at his center a realist, albeit a prideful one.
The Coens do an excellent job of utilizing the cold harsh winter to emphasize Davis's wearying struggle as well as portray the times by lining the sidewalks and some expansive shots with massive eight cylinder behemoths covered in winter grime. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is so cold and grey, yet so beautiful at the same time. It’s beauty on the eyes.
The music is key. It’s what makes it so easy to be interested and invested into these characters. The soundtrack is one of the best out there. If Oscar Isaac is the brain then T Bone Burnett is the heart and soul. He’s crafted such a beautiful soundtrack and it’s performed so incredibly by Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and the rest of the cast. If you’re going to make a film about the folk scene you HAVE to nail the music. Thankfully, they did.

In its running time of 105 minutes, few definite conclusions are drawn in regard to Llewyn's career and with the film ending in the same place as it started, it seems unlikely that he will break free from his cycle of obscurity. But then, the film really isn't about Llewyn's 'career' or his friends, because this is a film about Llewyn. The beginnings of the film highlight a raw, unabashed view on rejection and obscurity accompanied by this nagging expectation that Llewyn's life might blossom into a success story. But ultimately, that's not what the film is about and it's goal is not to satisfy filmic convention. Inside Llewyn Davis is very simply, a soulful and beautifully drawn portrait of a man and his music.

This film is fucking excellent, but there’s a reason the Coen’s aren’t getting recognition from the Academy. You can't judge this movie the same way you would judge every other film this year. It's almost as if the Coen Brothers have their own language that they are speaking, that the audience does not fully understand. They make films for themselves. They don’t make them for an audience. This film is slow-paced and melancholic, but it’s also completely mesmerising.

The Coen’s have done it again. I loved Inside Llewyn Davis. It encapsulates everything about the Coens: witty, great characters, fantastic looking and excellent music.

Oh, and John Goodman is an arsehole. Good job.