Inside Llewyn Davis
Director / Script: Joel & Ethan Coen / DP: Bruno Delbonnel / Editor: Joel & Ethan (as Roderick Jaynes) / Music: T-Bone Burnett
Cast: Oscar Isaac / Carey Mulligan / John Goodman / Garrett Hedlund / Justin Timberlake
An every-day folk story of Folk-Folk
The Coens tread their own path, crafting their material on modest budgets for a discerning cult of devotees. If they were French, they’d be lauded as ‘Auteurs’ and feted accordingly. But, they’re American, so just like Woody Allen and others, they’ve been sidelined by mainstream Hollywood. They have as many hits as misses yet, somehow, the cheques keep coming: and long may they continue so to do.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a curious addition to their canon. An unflashy, buttoned-down film, it casts Oscar Isaac as a folk singer in Greenwich Village, 1961. The story follows him over the course of an eventful week, as he sleeps on various sofas (and loses a significant cat), as he tries to make his name. In vain.
Despite LD’s efforts, everything he tries backfires in some way; the Coens sparing no cul-de-sac in amping-up this frustration. It all culminates in his old haunt: a murky folk club, just as a young Dylan takes the stage, with LD oblivious to history being made in front of him… The music of the era is recreated, pastiched and played beautifully; a nod to Isaac here, for having the musical chops to pull-off this understated, difficult role and kudos to T-Bone Burnett, for his arrangements and coaching. The standards played here are evergreen for a reason…
As usual with the Brothers Coen, production design is top-notch, with clubs and even an interstate cafeteria recreated with care and nuance. Their usual DP (Roger Deakins), was unavailable for this show, so Bruno Delbonnel got the nod and I thought he photographed everything with a calm touch. Grading in-post, has taken the warmth out of the frame, to make us feel the midwinter chill: LD’s’ pursuance of his art IS cold. Forbidding. Just as it should be.
Although laughs are few, they are there, mostly at LD’s expense, but I also smiled at his relationship with Carey Mulligan’s Jean, and how her incessant hostility always bounced-off her indifferent target. The writing here, is sparky and acerbic. Waspish, even.
And then it ended, leaving me feeling a curious blend of melancholic self-examination and appreciation for the craft I’d just witnessed. And isn’t that the purpose of cinema? To engage the viewer on some deep, subconscious level? To leave them with more questions than answers? To make them consider the road less travelled? If so, the Coens remain essential film-makers, even if they frustrate as often as they delight.
The show’s bullshit. Four micks and Grandma Moses.