"“Incomprehensibly emotional, with a distinct beauty to this elusive, striking piece of cinema...”"
The Greenwich Village folk scene has always held much promise as a potentially fascinating cinematic setting, with so few films ever delving into such a time and place to great effect, as a movement somewhat untouched in mainstream cinema. Therefore who better to entrust than the Coen brothers, as Joel and Ethan illuminate the period in the only way they know how, with their latest picture Inside Llewyn Davis.
Taking place across an eventful week in the harsh winter of 1961, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a young, talented musician, trying to navigate his way around the popular folk scene, hoping to be discovered at any moment. Playing gigs sporadically, to modest sized audiences, we see the ambitious singer travelling around the city, with his guitar in tow and a friends' cat by his side, as he moves between different houses and sofas, struggling to find a path to follow or a dream to chase. Spending time with the likes of Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake) – he weaves between friendships and adversaries, while the line between the two becomes somewhat blurred.
In a similar vein to O Brother Where Art Thou – the Coen's have used a musical narrative to create a memorable atmosphere, with the songs featured in the film narrating the story almost, providing it with a soundtrack to make for an amiable, pensive piece of cinema. That said, Inside Llewyn Davis is something of a departure for the directors, as they are usually so driven by their stories, whereas this particular piece has a distinct lack of narrative direction. However that is by no means a bad thing – as to an extent we follow the same path as our protagonist, and given this is such an intimate character study, it seems only right to shadow that of his position in life, where he doesn't quite know where he's going.
What is consistent of the Coen brothers brand, however, is the sharp dialogue for which they have become so renowned for, with the incredible ability to implement humour in the most inappropriate of places. Meanwhile, Llewyn is an extremely well-crafted character and portrayed lovingly by Isaac, who is a credit to this idiosyncratic creation. Considering Llewyn is the master of his own demise, and his own best enemy, he manages to stay endearing throughout, and we root for him regardless of his naïve actions. Things do just seem to happen to Llewyn too, as he seems to have very little luck – but in a similar mould to A Serious Man – we never once question the situations that arise, as this is thankfully lacking in any form of contrivance.
However on a more negative note, the supporting roles are not nearly prominent enough, and the likes of Mulligan, Timberlake and Coen brothers favourite John Goodman, are severely underused in this film, despite the latter showing off his great comedic ability in his cameo role as abrasive raconteur Roland Turner. Though talking about supporting roles, there is a cat (or two) that certainly deserve being mentioned, playing a key role to proceedings. Not only are they so goddamn cute, but they represent Llewn's protective instinct, as this rare possession – along with his guitar – shoes that he is able to care for something if he needs to, and though he may struggle to look after his own life, he'll do whatever he can to ensure the same can't be said of others.
Having set their own standards incredibly high, the Coen brothers will forever be scrutinised if they don't reach perfection – and although there are certainly faults to be found to Inside Llewyn Davis, it remains a memorable, thought-provoking drama, and one that comes with a real lasting effect, demanding a second viewing. All the while it's incomprehensibly emotional, with a distinct beauty to this elusive, striking piece of cinema.