When it comes to the latest film by the Coen brothers I pretty much just want to tell you that it’s a great film, both funny and moving and blah blah blah, and for you to just go to see it. This is Joel and Ethan Coen we’re talking about here, they don’t really make bad films. Ok, so they have made a couple of false moves but no one’s perfect; Judi Dench did a cameo in Run for Your Wife after all. If you need more convincing I will go on…
At the centre of Inside Llewyn Davis is, surprisingly, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a folk singer in early 1960s New York. Davis has hit hard times and doesn’t have a home, a consistent gig, or a stable relationship. We follow him during one terrible week as he hits even harder times which involve an unwanted pregnancy, a creative compromise, and a ginger cat with a habit of running away. We see a man at his lowest ebb who is forced to reconsider his dreams in favour of actually making a living.
The Coens work their usual visual magic and Inside Llewyn Davis has its own distinct look with a limited pallet of browns and greys and a slightly soft sheen to shots that allows the blacks to deepen and makes skin, particularly on Carey Mulligan, positively glow. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m wittering on about. The film is set in a harsh winter and the muted colours that leave everything looking infinitely colder. While everyone is wrapped up warm in heaps of attractive knitwear poor Llewyn doesn’t even have a winter coat making him seem all the more pathetic as he shivers within the stark scenery.
Inside Llewyn Davis is about a failing musician so does feature a lot of scenes of a man in dire straights and is not without pathos but this doesn’t mean that the film loses its sense of humour. The screening room erupted with laughter throughout the film as little nuggets of comedy gold were mined by the fine array of character actors at work. The Coens are so often at their best when holding up relatively unsympathetic leads for our amusement and somehow end up earning our sympathy.
When the crowd fell into a hushed silence it was as we all listened in awe to one of the films numerous musical performances. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a musical but with musicians as its core characters there are frequent performances during which we are treated to the entire songs rather than just snippets. These heart-felt folksy tunes are mostly sung by Isaac himself who has a beautiful voice and he was occasionally joined by the likes of Mulligan and Justin Timberlake who aren’t too shabby either. Timberlake plays a gloriously saccharin singer of cheesy songs, the recording session of one of his songs is a film highlight, and Mulligan his unfaithful wife.
This is a film with soul and on the Coen brothers scale sits most easily alongside A Serious Man in quality and in tone. A decent proper film with no gimmicks or distractions Inside Llewyn Davis is a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon.
Inside Llewyn Davis screens at the festival on the 15th, 17th and 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.