The Coen brothers show us once again why they are among the very best filmmakers of our time. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a typical Coen film, with only a hint of the Coen quirkiness. Instead, we are treated to a depressing drama about a struggling New York City musician in 1961 whose life is going around in circles.
Oscar Isaac is amazing as the lost, tired, lonely and desperately unhappy Llewyn Davis, whose inability to make a decent income as a folk singer forces him to sleep on the couches of friends. They always let him in, though it’s clear Davis is not the most likable guy to have around.
There are hints that Davis was a different man before his partner left him. Without his partner, Davis no longer knows where he’s going. There are allusions to Homer’s Odyssey (though not as overt as they were in the Coens’ O Bother, Where Art Thou). Davis is on a journey and unable to find his way home (or, I would say, even unable to know where home is).
Inside Llewyn Davis features a couple of fairly small but spot-on performances from Carey Mulligan and John Goodman, flawless writing and direction from the Coen brothers and outstanding cinematography. I’m not a fan of desaturated cinematography, but here it perfectly evokes not only the mood of the film (bleak, grey) but also the time (winter, 1961) and place. For 105 minutes, I was in New York City and Chicago (and the highway in between) in 1961.
Inside Llewyn Davis has a tired, melancholy and unsentimental feel that mirrors the life of its unlikable protagonist, though there is an underlying touch of humour. The bleakness makes it harder to enjoy the film, but it does make feel like you are watching a work of great cinematic art. Indeed, the film is so well-made, it is almost impossible to give it less than ****, regardless of whether it makes my top ten films of the year (which is not based on how good a film is, but on how much I enjoyed it).
And then of course there’s the cat(s).
So Inside Llewyn Davis gets **** even though I haven’t figured out how much I like the film. My mug is up.