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Movie review: 'Inside Llewyn Davis' is a melancholy masterpiece

Inside Llewyn Davis


Inside Llewyn Davis”, the latest film from writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, is not the easiest film to watch; its message is hopeless, and virtually none of its characters, including the main protagonist, are all that likeable. And yet the way the story unfolds, from the lovely folk music to the gorgeous cinematography to its skilled cast, draws the viewer in, and it quickly becomes obvious that the Coen Brothers have crafted another genius film.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performs
CBS Films

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village. He used to have a partner, but now he is struggling to get by on a solo career, going from sleeping on one friend’s couch to the next and taking whatever gigs he can. It’s quickly apparent that Llewyn isn’t the most admirable struggling musician—he’s quick to take advantage of people, and when they are kind to him he treats them poorly. You could say he’s downright despicable. But his music is the exact opposite of his personality: the lyrics are beautiful, enough so to make the viewer still want to root for his success, and feel bad when nobody recognizes his talent.

The supporting cast includes Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan as Jim and Jean, fellow musicians who have let Llewyn into their home many times, as well as John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund, whom Llewyn drives to Chicago with in a last-ditch attempt make his music into a successful career. Then there’s the cat he keeps running across, who for a short time is about the only living thing Llewyn shows a degree of affection for. Finally, the film ends the same way it begins, implying that Llewyn’s life will never change, that he will be stuck wandering aimlessly around and around in a circle forever. It’s dissatisfying and sad, but also completely appropriate to the story.

Inside Llewyn Davis” has much of the same dark humor that the Coen Brothers are known for. At times, it’s quite hilarious, but there’s always an underlying streak of melancholy that tempers it. A good part of the film’s effectiveness can be attributed to its cast, all of whom are simply fantastic. There have been many great performances by actors this movie season, but Isaac’s portrayal of the titular character here is certainly among the best, while Mulligan, Timberlake, and Goodman all easily deserve supporting cast honors.

The folk music in this film is also beautiful; Llewyn’s performances are about the only bright spots in an otherwise dark story. And, as mentioned before, the cinematography is also impressive. It helps contribute to that feeling of hopelessness and being stuck, particularly on Llewyn’s sometimes strange journey to Chicago and back.

While it isn’t a film that can be described as enjoyable, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a remarkable piece of film and certainly one of the best movies of 2013. Films that are this well-crafted, that allow the viewer to really peel away the layers of the story in search of the underlying meaning, don’t come along often and should be treasured when they do.

Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

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