Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

Everybody stop what you’re doing, put on your chunkiest knitwear, grow a luscious beard (if you’re male or an unusually hirsute woman) and buy a banjo, because The Coen Brothers are back and they’re getting their folk on.

Flight of the Conchords (who are a work of utter comedic genius) aside, I don’t really consider myself to be the ultimate in folk music aficionados. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind folk music. It’s pleasant enough, and as far as I’m aware nobody has ever died from listening to too much of it, but it’s never going to get me hot and sweaty in the parts that I like to keep covered up in public. After watching Inside Llewyn Davis, however, I did get an unusually compelling urge to rush out and buy a banjo and I blame this compulsion entirely on those dastardly film making siblings, The Coen Brothers.

Now, The Coens probably aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  A good friend of mine, for example, after watching about fifteen minutes of absolutely any Coen Brothers film would no doubt start sighing, fidgeting and complaining that it was “slow”.  He would then probably turn over to watch Celebrity Diving on ITV, or put on his prized Iron Eagle DVD. I, however, love them.  Granted their movies can often have a fairly pedestrian pace and once the film has finished you may indeed question what it was all about, but you know what?  It doesn’t matter.  I love the understated subtlety, the lingering silences, the offbeat humour, the unusual, larger than life characters and the meandering, interweaving story-lines. No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, True Grit, O Brother, Where Art Thou? All wonderful movies.  All very different movies.  But all, without exception, have the unmistakable wreak of the Coen Brothers opulent stench all over them.  Inside Llewyn Davis is another classic, unmistakably Coen Brothers film, albeit a more tender creation than we have seen from them in sometime.

Typically understated and subtle, yet bursting at the seams with colourful characters and offbeat humour, the story centres around Llewyn Davis (wonderfully played by Oscar Isaac who can consider himself unlucky not to feature amongst the Oscar nominations), a folk musician trying to crack the New York music scene in Greenwich Village in 1961.  All the evidence suggests that Llewyn has the talent to succeed, but his unwillingness to conform and his troublesome attitude hold him back.  Llewyn spends his days scraping around for enough pennies to get by, whilst looking for the next couch to call his bed for the night.

One such couch belongs to Jim and Jean, a folk singing duo played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan.  Llewyn’s relationship with Jean in particularly, is a complicated and tempestuous one and one of the focal points for the film.  Over the course of the film we get to understand the reasons behind this friction as well as meeting various other characters from the dark recesses of the Coen’s brains, including a drug fuelled John Goodman, an escapologist ginger cat (or two), a deep voiced, folk singing cowboy and a guitar playing soldier.  The whole movie seems to be playing to an offbeat, melodic, foot tapping rhythm.  Don’t worry too much about what it’s about or where it’s going.  Just sit back and enjoy the gentle, often bleak, but always symphonic ride.

Somewhat oddly Inside Llewyn Davis has been largely overlooked at this year’s Oscars.  Granted it has received nominations in the cinematography and soundtrack categories, but I am surprised that it doesn’t feature anywhere amongst the film, actor, direction and screenplay sections.  Maybe the judging panel took exception to a lack of swashbuckling hero, the bleakness of the movie or the lack of a “high fives all round”, all-American ending.  I’m not entirely sure.  What I am sure of however, is that I thought Inside Llewyn Davis was a cracker.  And whilst not my absolute favourite Coen Brothers film (that particular honour is currently a dead heat between No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski), this soulful little beast gets pretty damn close.

A harmonic 4 out of 5.

Words: Gareth Hutchins