Expert filmmaker brother duo Ethan Coen and Joel Coen receive seemingly unlimited amounts of praise each time that they release any work. However, this admiration has been warranted, for the most part. Over time, they have continued to better their craft, as they have developed even stronger storytelling skills. Their adaptation of True Grit was one of the more impressive western pictures to come along in many years. Now they're bringing us a completely different type of beast. CBS Films has acquired US distribution rights for their newest motion picture Inside Llewyn Davis. This loose adaptation of the late Dave Van Ronk's career in the Greenwich Village music scene is an emotional roller coaster that constantly manipulates the feelings of its audiences.
Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer who is struggling at succeeding in his career in the music industry in Greenwich Village in 1961. This is a story of the survival and grief of an artist who did not find any immediate success from his work. Without a home, he is forced to go from one person's couch to the next. Beginning on Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim's (Justin Timberlake's) couch, he must deal with the harsh lessons that an emotionally painful journey have brought upon him. With the death of his late partner, he must find his place in both the music scene and the world as a solo act.
While some films are plot-driven, others prove to be primarily based upon the development of the character. Inside Llewyn Davis is an entirely character-driven motion picture that follows a man working through some incredibly difficult obstacles. From the moment that we're introduced to Llewyn, it was made aware that we would have a love-hate relationship with this title role. While the audience will want him to succeed in his career and overcome his personal demons, he isn't the most sympathetic character. He makes some terrible decisions and takes his frustrations out on nearly every person around him. However, Jean doesn't allow him to get away with his behavior, as she constantly tears him down. Regardless of this attitude, she clearly cares enough about him to put that much energy into her "hate" for Llewyn. It doesn't take very long to discover that there are two primary battles that he's attempting to overcome. The first deals with the death of his musical partner. Even when it isn't obviously stated, it's clear that he's dealing with the grieving process in a devastating fashion. Every song that he sings displays the pain that is hidden within his soul, which is an extraordinary thing to watch. The second battle deals with Llewyn's constant attempts to be a success in the music scene. He's able to book gigs at bars and whatnot, but his career appears to be static. This guides him on a physical and emotional journey in order to be discovered.
Once Llewyn becomes more proactive in pursuing his dreams, the main tension is whether or not he will succeed in making ripples in the music scene. Even despite some of his actions, I found myself constantly wanting him to succeed in his goal. This ultimately leaves him with the journey of hitching a ride with Roland Turner (John Goodman) and driver Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund). Every mile of the way is filled with awkward goodness. Roland Turner provides a bunch of comic relief that some audiences will desperately need. The Coen Brothers have officially made their most depressing feature, which is brightened up with some hints of comedy throughout the running time. The objective of keeping a cat safe that accidentally escaped from his friend's apartment is constant. Each time this cat escapes from his grasp, he's forced to chase it around the city. However, this is incredibly symbolic of Llewyn's "cat-and-mouse" pursuit of happiness and his dreams of "making it" in the folk music scene. Viewers will surely find themselves chuckling quite a few times, but it never forgets that this is an incredibly dramatic motion picture at heart. No attempt is made to have you laughing out loud.
The audience is exposed to the feelings of Llewyn that aren't expressed to those around him. Regardless, the Coen Brothers still maintain a small amount of ambiguity. Most of the messages of their films are "under the radar," and this is perhaps one of their most straightforward pictures. However, different viewers will surely interpret the ending differently. The filmmakers have made it so that you don't need any previous knowledge of the folk music scene in order to follow this emotional adventure. This story is more about the human condition of the grieving processes and the pursuit of one's dreams. However, it's all about how you feel about this love-hate relationship that audiences will experience with Llewyn Davis. The Coen Brothers allow you to feel as you would like about him, as there is no constant effort made for us to fall in love with him. They hold faith that viewers will be captured by his story, regardless of his decision-making and behavior.
There are quite a few highly impressive performances this year, and Inside Llewyn Davis most certainly hits the nail right on the head. Oscar Isaac is perfect in the role of the title character. He displays every emotional note in an impeccable fashion. Whether he's playing his music in the bar or having a heated conversation with those around him, Isaac displays a powerful representation of this character. Carey Mulligan impresses yet again as Jean. She doesn't receive quite as much screen time as I thought she would, but she delivers an absolutely outstanding performance, especially in the heat of her arguments with Isaac. Other great supporting performances include John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, and Justin Timberlake. Each of them contribute to the overall goal of the picture, but the primary focus is held on Isaac.
The Coen Brothers always ensure that every aspect of their features are incredibly impressive. Inside Llewyn Davis continues this streak of quality. The visuals represent Llewyn's perspective very well. The winter was harsh, and this is brought forward through the color palette and the textures on screen. When our title character begins to sing, we're brought into a close-up, as this is an incredibly personal and vulnerable moment for Llewyn. However, a lot of his journey is expressed through long shots, keeping us at a distance. Every aspect of the cinematography will keep your eyes glued to the screen, catching more symbolism as the film continues. There's a lot that went into the visuals of this dramatic motion picture. The quality of the audio recording of the performances are stunning. Every song sounds fantastic on the big screen, and it will surely prove to carry this along to the Blu-ray release.
This is a feature unlike any other motion picture from these filmmakers. It maintains a completely different tone and it tells a more personal story than what we're used to receiving from them. While this isn't the strongest film in their catalog of titles, it's a powerful addition. The character of Llewyn Davis is an intriguing one, as the two themes that haunt him throughout his journey are incredibly powerful. Even though you won't always support his actions, you'll still find yourself supporting him as he pursues his dreams and grieves the loss of an important figure in his life. Inside Llewyn Davis tells a memorable story that's well-worth the price of admission. Highly recommended!