Monday, December 23, 2013


In the early 1960’s, the Greenwich Village area of New York City was a haven for up-and-coming folk singers, where a select few like Bob Dylan escaped into stardom, while others were left to languish playing for pennies in smoky coffee-houses. The newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, is a film about the latter.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is a young folk singer living day-to-day, who encounters many misadventures which include his ex-girlfriend (Carey Mulligan), his best friend (Justin Timberlake), a jazz musician (John Goodman), and his driver (Garrett Hedlund).

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS has very little plot to speak of. There is nothing for the main character to strive for, to achieve, or to get to. It is instead a snapshot of a typical week of life for the starving artist as they go from bar to bar, spending every night sleeping on a different coach under a different roof. Along the way, the Coen Brothers manage to slowly peel back the many layers of Llewyn, and film becomes all about the How and the Why he came to this place, and why he chooses to stay. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS feels like a middle chapter, as it begins after a lot has seemingly happened and it wraps with the main character right in the same place. It works and it is effective because it is really an examination of the starving artist and their craft; a portrait set inside of the framework of American music history.
The music plays an important part in the film on many levels. The performances, done by the actors themselves, are a collection of old and new material and are beautiful to listen to and see on the big screen. Each song is relevant to a situation or character in the film, and there is a constant awakening of appreciation of the poetry of the style. The film itself is full of life despite the grey and bleak color scheme. Set in a harsh winter-time period, the film is devoid of any real color…which adds to the bleakness of Llewyn’s situation. Despite the bleak look, the film is very funny with light and perfectly timed humor, and the color palette is tragically beautiful to look at.

Performances are spectacular. Oscar Isaac sings his heart out effectively and powerfully, and he acts the part of a lost soul perfectly. Carey Mulligan is full of fire as his scorned ex-girlfriend, and Justin Timberlake makes the transition to folk music perfectly. John Goodman is electric and nearly steals the show, and Garrett Hedlund is nearly unrecognizable in look and performance.
The film wraps with a clever bookend, leaving us right where the story and the main character started. All is not lost with such an ending, as it gives us insight into the Why of it all, and while our main character has not gone very far, he seems to be better armed for what will come in the next few days of his life. The lack of a real plot may polarize some viewers at first, but after a while, a greater appreciation will sink in like a great song. That is the mark of masterful filmmaking.


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