Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis: Movie Review

Inside Llewyn Davis: Movie Review

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, A ginger cat, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

The Coen Brothers return to the movies with a ramshackle week in the life of a young folk singer and a reminder that life's journey doesn't always take the straightest path toward destiny.

A bearded, sad-eyed Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a singer who's trying to make it in the Greenwich Village scene of 1961 but failing to break through and falling deeper into self-doubt as he shambles from one uncertain night to the next.

Complicating his life are an unexpected pregnancy with Carey Mulligan's Jean (one of the places where Davis crashes), the lack of definitive work, a manager who appears to never pass any money on and a cruel winter. Even with a guitar slung on his back, Llewyn is facing his darkest days yet as he sets out to audition for a music mogul in Chicago, with nothing but misfits, biting cold, crippling hunger, and a ginger cat for company...

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film that soars on many levels - from the understated yet totally relatable Oscar Isaac as Davis, who nails every desperate scene with a quiet frustration as the thwarted artist, to the ragtag group of misfits who drift in and out of his life, the Coens have brought together a cyclical film that encapsulates the life of the artist as they move from uncertainty to tantalising hope.

But the Coens haven't lost any of their playfulness by doing this (even if they've dialled it back) - a recurring motif of a ginger cat who likes to travel (and whose name reveal at the end of the movie is a delicious treat), a cameo from John Goodman as a jazz singer who steals the scene he's in as a brute of an over-confident man who's the antithesis to Isaac's quietly frustrated Davis to Justin Timberlake's jumper-wearing oblivious to everything around him folk singer, there's something to love in almost every scene.

And that's without mentioning the rich, soulful soundtrack that is a perfect representation of the times - even down to the final appearance of a certain singer who kicked off the folk scene at that time. The songs range from the heartbreakingly frank (Oh Hang Me) to the verging-on-popsong-parody (Please Mr Kennedy) and are the perfect side dish, peppered as they are throughout. Drab colours and a washed out look to the film add to the vibe of the 60s Greenwich scene.

Inside Llewyn Davis feels exactly how it is to be a struggling artist, every scene reeks of quiet desperation and utter despondency as Davis goes from one uncertain moment to the next. When his eventual dark moment of the soul arrives, Isaac completely and heartbreakingly sells it with his sad tired eyes - fulfilling the melancholy almost maudlin vibe of what's already transpired as the soul crushing lows come to fruition. Particularly devastating is the scene where Davis pours his heart out with the guitar to a producer who simply dismisses him with the words "I don't see any money in it".

The sombre tone of this ramshackle road movie of the soul is beautifully played, though Davis is nothing more than a melancholic loner on this journey; his interactions with the likes of Jane and Timberlake's Jim merely emphasising that he doesn't fit in with them, an artist doomed to go his own lonely way - even the ginger cat leaves him as soon as the chance arises. If there are loose ends strewn here and there, it's symptomatic of how Davis comes and goes in people's lives more than poor writing or plotting.

Inside Llewyn Davis leaves you uncertain as to whether Davis is the real talent, destined to make it when the scene eventually breaks through or if he'll crack under the growing pressure of reality; it's a perfect portrait of someone suffering for their art - but the Coen brothers have ensured this journey is as far away from suffering as is remotely possible. It's a gorgeous film, a true testament to their skills as story-tellers and also their actors.

You can't afford not to see this quiet little masterpiece.



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