Llewyn Davies (Oscar Isaac) was one half of a popular folk duo on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s until his partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. Llewyn must then rely on friends, family and strangers as he struggles to make it on his own, but doesn’t make life easy for himself.
There are few filmmakers who successfully span as many genres as the Coen brothers. Pretty much every film they make is a departure from the last, and yet you still know what to expect, such is their style. Inside Llewyn Davies may not be their most accessible film but is still another intriguing string to their already impressive bow.
Llewyn is a decent enough artist but has struggled to catch a break. He’s stuck in a rut, making no money and having to crash on the sofas of anyone who’ll have him. He’s also not a particularly nice person, leading to a rather uneasy, morose tone for the film. Llewyn tries to make his way in the world but we never really get the feeling it’ll ever work for him.
Looming over Llewyn and the whole film in general is the death of his friend and musical partner. From the first song we see Llewyn sing, ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, to the nightmarish road trip he takes with jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and beat poet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), death seems a ubiquitous presence throughout.
All this does make the film a little cold and not always engaging. Llewyn is his own worst enemy and generally a bit of a dick, which succeeds in keeping you just at arm’s length throughout. However, Llewyn is the source of a dry vein of humour that runs throughout, which is necessary to keep it from getting too depressing, and Oscar Issac must take a lot of credit for his performance. Isaac is note perfect as the downtrodden Llewyn, carrying an air of entitlement whilst trying to repress the fact he knows he’s not quite good enough.
As you’d expect, the music and in particular the folk songs (which were recorded live) are superb, and rather than just get snippets of the tracks, we’re treated to full length versions, which actually makes the film seem more akin to a traditional musical. Complementing the music is Bruno Delbonnel stunning cinematography which definitely has a touch of the Wes Anderson or Stanley Kubrick about it.
Inside Llewyn Davies also has an elliptically structured narrative which, whilst interesting, may frustrate some in not offering a clear conclusion to the story. But this is the Coens, so the chances of it wrapping up nicely were always pretty slim. It lets us draw our own conclusions, and few films recently have had me coming up with my own theories for so long afterwards.
In fact, there’s quite a lot to ponder upon and analyse should you feel the need. Everything from a ginger cat that Llewyn looks after to the songs he sings can take on alternative interpretations if you want to find them. It’s more than possible to enjoy the film at face value, but one could argue it’s a richer experience if you dig a little deeper.
Those expecting a by-the-numbers biopic are likely to be a little taken aback by Inside Llewyn Davies’s slow-burning, almost uneventful story, but the Coens have done what they do best in creating a film that rewards those who allow themselves to succumb to its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. In short, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
- Fantastic performance from Oscar Isaac
- Great soundtrack
- Stunning cinematography
- Can leave you thinking about it for days
- Some may find it slightly cold and unfulfilling