Judge Patrick Naugle dreams of being inside a Hostess Twinkie.
The new film from Joel and Ethan Coen.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, Sucker Punch) is a melancholy folk singer struggling to make ends meet. Living in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and formerly part of a duo (Llewyn's partner killed himself before the film opens), Davis hops from friend to friend, living on their couches while trying to scrape together some semblance of a career. After accidentally locking himself out of a friend's apartment—with their tabby cat, no less—Davis ends up at Jim (Justin Timberlake, In Time) and Jean's (Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby) house, even though Llwyen and Jean have a bit of unpleasant shared history. As he struggles to juggle bad news from Jean, an empty wallet, and a possible meeting with a record executive in Chicago, Llewyn's life goes from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.
I truly believe Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most unique and talented filmmakers working in Hollywood today. When you look at their impressively diverse filmography, it's almost mind-boggling the movies they've created. Fargo. The Hudsucker Proxy. The Big Lebowski. A Serious Man. No Country for Old Men. What do all of these films have in common? The fact they have so little in common. The Coen Bros. have made a career out of creating original films that may share thematic elements, but otherwise are night and day in comparison. How else can you account for one film being about the Jewish suburbia in the 1960s, another film dealing with Howard Hawks style zaniness, and still another focusing on a murder-for-hire plot? As each movie rolls off their assembly line, I'm always fascinated to see what comes next.
Inside Llewyn Davis is just as unique and different as the Coen's previous efforts, once again taking a time and place (Greenwich Village in the early 1960s) and turning it into a fascinating character study. Really, that's all this film is; a focused, blistering study of a struggling folk singer who's career—nay, entire life—is on the decline. The Coen Bros. work their magic yet again by truly immersing the viewer in the '60s folk scene. Though I wasn't alive during this point in history, I felt like I truly knew what it was like to be a struggling artist in a landscape that was changing with every passing day. The atmosphere is thick with a counter culture everyone is familiar with, yet so many never had the chance to experience first hand. A lot of credit goes to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (A Very Long Engagement), who gives the film a gritty yet nostalgic tinge.
One of the Coens' cinematic gifts is being able to pick a perfect cast, sometimes seemingly out of thin air. Although Oscar Isaac has worked in films prior to Inside Llewyn Davis, I'd personally never heard of him until seeing him play Llewyn Davis. Isaac gives a pitch perfect performance as the sad sack Llewyn, all sleepy eyed frustration and ratted hair. As he sings, the saddest moments come from the fact that he clearly does have talent, just not enough of it to rise to the top. Though Davis's Llewyn may not be as memorable as past Coen characters, he's still a compelling lead.
Swirling around Davis is a colorful cast of characters, including Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as friends who allow Llewyn to crash on their couch (even though the woman may be pregnant with Davis' love child), and a grumbling John Goodman as an unpleasant jazz singer with a major drug problem. Goodman, who has been featured in countless Coen Bros films, is especially good as the shifty singer whose final moments are filled with equal parts comedy and pathos. Truth be told, there isn't a bad performance to be found here.
An equally important component of Inside Llewyn Davis is the pitch perfect music, which has been supervised by producer T. Bone Burnett (who also gave musical life to the Coen's thoroughly underrated O Brother, Where Art Thou?). The New York Times noted, "The musical performances do more than just enhance the movie: they complete it." That is as accurate a statement as you can get; the musical numbers—performed by Isaacs, Timberlake, and Mulligan—are sweet without being cloying, and realistic without being a rip off of actual classic folk songs.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) isn't a bright and colorful film. The image is rather dark and muted (an artistic choice), so this isn't a picture that will leap off the screen. That being said, what the film lacks in color it more than makes up for in clarity quality. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is evocative and impressive, especially during the staged musical numbers. Also included are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include a 43-minute featurette titled "Inside Inside Llewyn Davis," which features a nice overview of the film's production, and a digital copy of the film.
Llewyn's journey—both physically and emotionally—is what makes Inside Llewyn Davis such a compelling film. Every hardship he experiences on his way to find some semblance of a successful music career is of his own making, including an audition for Bud Grossman, a John Hammond-esque figure, played drolly by F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus). It's a rare movie that can offer viewers an honest look at a man self-imploding with honesty and humor. By the end of the film, we're rooting for Davis because we can see a piece of ourselves in him—self loathing, regret, stubborness, resentment, hope, pain, and creativity. This is where Inside Llewyn Davis truly succeeds. The Coen Bros. have succeeded in making yet another masterpiece of character and humor.
One of the Coen Bros' most richly textured films.
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