|Oscar Isaac in Joel and Ethan Coen’s INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS Photo: Alison Rosa |
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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
2013, 105 minutes
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Review by Joshua Handler
Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Joel and Ethan Coen's latest, Inside Llewyn Davis, is a haunting film of immense power that hooked me from the moment it started. The film opens with a shot of Oscar Isaac singing a melancholy song in one nearly uninterrupted take and through Isaac’s singing and face, we see the sorrow, failure, and passion that form his character, Llewyn. This sets the tone for an emotional journey into the heart of the 1960's folk music culture in New York City's Greenwich Village.
The movie follows Llewyn Davis, a bitter, unlikable folk musician living in Greenwich Village who tries to turn his career around. However, despite his best efforts, Llewyn's own arrogance and the cruel world stop him at every turn.
Few directors consistently turn out unpredictable, downbeat masterworks as frequently as the Coens. While their last film, 2010's True Grit wasn't great, their other films like No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and countless others are some of the boldest pieces of American cinema to have been made in the past 20 years. Inside Llewyn Davis elegantly marries music, cinematography, acting, and dialogue to form a film a thematically universal, yet aesthetically New York film. With cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Across the Universe), the Coens recreate a romantic and haze-filled Greenwich Village with a harsh world surrounding it.
This is a film, like all Coen Brothers films, that shows the unforgiving nature of the world. The inherent sadness of this film, though, doesn’t make this a feel-bad film. Because Inside Llewyn Davis is laced with humor (this humor is felt even in some of the saddest scenes), the film is very enjoyable, not depressing. Watching Inside Llewyn Davis is an oddly cathartic experience.
The performances by all are top-notch (John Goodman turns in his wackiest performance in years), but this is a showcase for Oscar Isaac who finally gets his first major leading role after supporting turns in films like Drive and Sucker Punch. With his angelic voice (the singing was done live) and wide emotional range, Isaac gives one of the best performances of the year. Though Llewyn is an irresponsible, self-important person who makes few good decisions throughout the film, he is somehow sympathetic, and much of this is thanks to Isaac. He shows us that Llewyn cares about his life and those around him, but he simply is incapable of showing it. Isaac is especially brilliant in the scenes where he sings. While the pain is evident in the dramatic scenes, the full force of it is unleashed in the music scenes. Isaac shows an emotional vulnerability rarely shown by actors and this is a driving force behind the film.
Inside Llewyn Davis features the Coens’ signature black humor, and the songs produced by a variety of people lead by T-Bone Burnett (Marcus Mumford was also involved) are moving and authentic.
Overall, Inside Llewyn Davis is a rich, funny, and haunting film that will resonate with those who lived during the period when the film was set, Coen Brothers fans, and those who love music. This is one of the few films recently that I would happily re-watch, so look for another review or analysis soon.