Film Review: 'Inside Llewyn Davies'
Opened: 24 January 2014 (UK)
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund and Justin Timberlake
Directors: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Producers: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Like the third act of an Arthur Miller play, Inside Llewyn Davies tells of the seemingly inevitable decline of a musician in a grim spiral down to the bottom, as he fumbles and stumbles his way into an ongoing series of poor decisions. The fictional eponymous singer songwriter of the 1960s New York folk scene is surrounded by a company of supporters who neither understand him nor are able to provide him anything more than enough to survive. The look and tone of the film is ice cold; the chilly backdrop of an ever present winter quietly underlines the gradually escalating despair and the harshness of Davies’ situation, while also aggravating his homelessness.
Offering up only a short chapter of his life, the film alludes to what might have been and builds Davies’ character quickly and deftly through his current choices and past regrets. As a study in human desire and survival instinct he is an engrossing prospect, but the lack of any unifying plotline or significant life event will leave many wondering what exactly the point of the movie is. It is here that writer/director team the Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel) may have overshot their audience, as much of the messaging of the film has been layered into Davies’ allusions to the past and in cinematic metaphor. Almost from the outset Davies finds himself the temporary keeper of the Gorfeins’ ginger tomcat, an event which begins the first part of his journey to return the cat to its owners. As the cat jumps in and out of the movie it is unclear whether it is ever the same cat and Davies’ treatment of the animal(s) is mirrored both in his treatment of the people around him and in the downward direction his life – karma is at the very heart of this story.
The second leg of his journey sees him take a real chance on pursuing his dream, perhaps inspired by a poster timely advertising the release of the 1963 movie The Incredible Journey (about a cat and two dogs). Once the journey is over it is left to the audience to decide for themselves if Davies becomes a success or welcomes the same fate as his partner: ‘George Washington Bridge? You throw yourself off the Brooklyn Bridge, traditionally. George Washington Bridge? Who does that?’ teases John Goodman’s deeply detestable jazz playing egotist Roland Turner. This particularly repulsive slime ball is one of the only effectively deployed comic elements along with a brilliantly awkward mini monologue about a cat’s scrotum. Overall, the film is uncertain about what it wants to be, becoming a perfectly pleasant jack of all trades but undoubtedly a master of none! Lacking the tension and drama of the Coen Brothers’ nerve shattering No Country for Old Men or profound gems like True Grit, it equally fails to even approach the humour and magnetism of The Big Lebowski or the more comparable Oh Brother Where Are Thou.
Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of the movie is how likeable we and his friends find the scumbag loser Llewyn Davies. For me this is squarely down to the charming laid back performance given by Oscar Isaac and for the people in Davies’ life it is (or was) equally down to the surface charm that they see in the life of such a beguiling minstrel.
If like a sociopathic watch maker you enjoy dissecting a movie to see its inner working parts and reach your own conclusions then you will most certainly enjoy looking Inside Llewyn Davies, there are lots of little connections and suggestions that can be weaved together to make a fascinating web of a character. For those craving juicy Hollywood narrative and a forward looking high speed script maybe check out The Wolf of Wall Street.
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