Film Review: Inside Llewyn Davies

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.

Pros

  • Fantastic performance from Oscar Isaac
  • Great soundtrack
  • Stunning cinematography
  • Can leave you thinking about it for days

Cons

  • Some may find it slightly cold and unfulfilling

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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42 thoughts on “Film Review: Inside Llewyn Davies

  1. liamdoesfilm says:

    Good review! Saw this a few weeks back and loved it, for the many reasons you listed! The whole look of the film was stunning and certain scenes where just perfect, the music was great and has left me listening to the soundtrack far too much. I can see why people complain or dislike the uneventful narrative and the ending but for me its just trying to convey an important message about hanging onto your passions. Great film once again from the Coen brothers 🙂 shame it got snubbed by the Oscars, but hopefully it’ll beat Gravity to the cinematography award.

    • Thanks Liam! Definitely an interesting point about the unfulfilling ending/narrative sort of reflecting Llewyn’s life and career, I definitely think that’s a plausible theory. I’ve been listening a lot to the soundtrack too, can’t believe they didn’t get any Oscar noms for best original song. I can’t see it beating Gravity for cinematography though, I reckon that one’s in the bag unfortunately.

  2. thomasjford says:

    I loved it, but my wife did indeed find it unemotional. I think it was too, but in a good way!

  3. keith7198 says:

    Glad you were able to catch this flick. I’m a big fan of it. It’s one that actually began to mean more to me a day or so after I saw it. I better understood the themes running throughout the film. Another good Coen brothers concoction.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. The more and more that I think about this movie, the more I absolutely adore it. That’s why I still can’t forgive myself for giving it an “8.5” the first time around. Stupid me!

  5. jjames36 says:

    Great review! Some might find this unfulfilling. I’m not one of them. doesn’t seem you are either.

    This is very good.

    • Thanks! I did find it a little cold and hard to really engage with at times, but on the whole I thought it was excellent. I can see why some people haven’t been totally sold on it, but on the other hand I can see why some people love it.

  6. Great review! Really looking forward to this one.

  7. Loved this. Great review, Chris. Yes, it’s cold but it enhances the storyline. The Coen Bros are the best out there. They always turn out originial, artistic pieces.

  8. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris, good to hear you enjoyed this – I’m looking forward to seeing it!

  9. Anyone familiar with the Coens should have an inkling of what to expect, but this is a particularly intriguing entry in their canon. Very thoughtful review mate. I have my own theories as you probably read.

    • I do indeed remember reading your thoughts mate, it’s definitely a film that gets people thinking and invokes all sorts of emotions. You can tell it’s a Coen brothers film if you’re familiar with them. Those that aren’t familiar may struggle a little I have a feeling.

  10. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I’d say it’s the Coens’ best since NCFOM. It’s a lot like A Serious Man, except with a less sympathetic protagonist. Isaac gives the performance of the year in my opinion.

  11. Beer Movie says:

    I was a really big fan of this film. Probably my favourite that the Coen Brothers have done I think.

    You’re spot on about Isaacs’ performance. I have been a big fan of his since I saw him in Balibo, an Aussie film from a few years ago. I also think that Carey Mulligan is one of the best actresses around these days. Would have liked to have seen more of her character actually.

    • Glad you liked it man! Not sure it’s my favourite of theirs (although I haven’t seen some of them) but I still really liked it. Isaac was great and good to hear some love for Carey Mulligan, I think she’s great in pretty much everything she’s in, and I agree it would have been nice to see more of her.

  12. table9mutant says:

    Great review! I just wrote the worst review ever for this as I had no clue what to say about it. It’s okay. I didn’t hate it but didn’t exactly like it either. You definitely liked this one more than I did. : )

  13. Love this review. Davis’ character is unappealing and I can see that some people might find this a hard film to enjoy as a consequence. But there is so much to dissect here and I think it’s a real grower – the more times you watch the more is revealed. Gorgeous cinematography and soundtrack too. I have mixed feelings about the Cohen’s films but for me this one is definitely a triumph.

    • Thank you 🙂 It’s definitely a grower this one. When I initially left the cinema I was a little cold towards it but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I’d really like to see it again actually at some point.

      • I know what you mean. I went to see it with my other half and he was initially disappointed. But over the next few hours we found ourselves unable to stop talking about it! The more we chatted, the more the strands of the movie seemed to come together. I think it’s definitely one to re-watch.

  14. ruth says:

    Great review Chris! Well, I’m one of those people who found this cold and unfulfilling, but I did appreciate Isaac’s acting/singing voice, the music and cinematography. I didn’t care to even review it, but I did highlight the music in my Music Break series 😀

  15. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris. I loved this movie but I refused to write about it until I seen it again. I found there was much to process. It’s at least a 4.5 for me. Possible 5 stars.

  16. thycriticman says:

    Well written as always Terry. I have yet to watch this, but that sure is a high review. The premise does not exactly catch my attention, but I am going to give in eventually, and give it a shot. Your review did it justice!

  17. Victor De Leon says:

    I’m sold! Then again, I’m partial to the Coens. Nice write up! Can’t wait to see this. The photography by Delbonnel looks stunning. Loved his worked on “Amelie” Thanks!

    • Thanks Vic! Delbonnel does a fantastic job here, the cinematography is fantastic! Definitely one of my favourite things about the film to be honest.

      • Victor De Leon says:

        Ah, gotcha. That’s cool.

        Though, I did not care for the film very much, Delbonnel shot “Dark Shadows” beautifully as well. He has a great eye for depth and lighting strongly to accentuate angles.

        Can’t wait to see his work on the latest Coen movie.

  18. Excellent review, so detailed. Inside Llewyn Davis is one of my favourite films from 2013. A bleak, beautiful film about shattered dreams, self-pity, dealing with disappointment & the cycles that often capture us. Glad you liked it!

  19. Great review Terry! I loved this film. You’re spot on about Oscar Isaac’s pinpoint performance and the beautifully chilly cinematography. Can’t wait to see it again.
    Adam.

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