Inside Llewyn Davis: the film is an unforgettable portrait of America

Entertainment Desk :
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Cast: Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac
Director: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen Brothers, follows a Greenwich Village folk musician as he crashes on friends’ couches and plays smoky nightclubs while struggling to catch a break. The film, set in early 1960s New York, doesn’t have much plot to speak of, just a piercing, evocative sense of a time and place and the characters that inhabit it.
Anyone who’s a fan of the Coen Brothers’ movies will tell you that they have no interest in upbeat stories, choosing mostly to view the world through dark glasses. It’s this cynicism that has defined some of their best films over the years, and they apply it skillfully once again to this tale. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a musician trying to make a solo career, since the suicide of his singing partner. Llewyn is grieving this death, but spews out his depression by being inconsiderate, testy and even downright rude to those around him. This is the guy who may or may not have accidentally got his friend’s wife Jean (Carey Mulligan, darkly funny) pregnant. “Everything you touch turns to shit,” she tells Llewyn viciously. You feel his failure and yet, relish the humor that comes out of the situations Llewyn puts himself in. “Look, I’m not a trained poodle,” he tells his kind dinner-table hosts when they persuade him to sing for their guests.
The sweetness in this pitch-black comedy, set in a wintry, bleak America, comes from the music. When Llewyn sings, his heart in his raspy voice, there is the sparkle of a true artist. Yet you know that the popular melody of 500 Miles, sung by Jean and her husband Jim (Justin Timberlake) will be the hit, not Llewyn’s soulful Hang Me Oh Hang Me. This irony is felt more keenly when the Coens show you how a young Bob Dylan is playing at the same Village clubs, on the cusp of discovery, even as recognition always eludes Llewyn. He takes a ride all the way to Chicago to give a moving audition before a music mogul. As the song ends, the producer tells him, “I don’t see a lot of money here.” Llewyn accepts the rejection as if he’d seen it coming.
If there’s a discordant note, it is the indulgent middle portion, when Llewyn takes this road trip. The characters he meets — like the unpleasant junkie and jazz musician (a terrific John Goodman) and his pensive valet (Garret Hedlund) — stand out, but their journey slackens the story. A lovely subplot running throughout the film involves a fugitive pet cat that Llewyn takes to, almost desperately.
With a superb ensemble cast and a leading man in excellent form, the Coens come up with yet another unforgettable portrait of America. Oscar Isaac embodies Llewyn’s unique spirit with a singularly lasting performance, and there’s little question that the film’s brilliant musical soundtrack will sweep the awards. I’m going with four out of five for Inside Llewyn Davis. To the Coens, whose exceptional body of work keeps growing with every new film, one can only say…keep ’em coming.