With “Inside Llewyn Davis” Joel and Ethan Coen have made their best film since 2007’s “No Country For Old Men”. Though this immersive and soulful portrait of a week in the life of a young folk singer navigating the Greenwich Village scene in 1961 is a long shot to claim Best Picture honors the way “No Country" did, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of the best films to come out of a good year at the movies.
Oscar Isaac turns in a star making performance as the titular Llewyn Davis, a talented, but struggling folk singer bouncing from couch-to-couch as he tries to make his career and his messy personal life work. Llewyn is simultaneously frustrating, fascinating, repugnant and, somehow, completely sympathetic. The likes of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver and a scene-stealing feline (actually portrayed by three cat actors) populate Llewyn’s heady world, bringing heart, humor, angst and melancholy to the already palpable fabric of the film.
In a strictly dramatic sense all of the performances are top-flight, but they become even more impressive when one considers that the Coen’s chose to shoot live musical performances for the film. A choice that is responsible, at least in part, for the intimacy of the film. In the opening scene, as Llewyn performs for an audience at the famed Gaslight in Greenwich, we are given a perspective such that we don’t have to imagine in we are in the crowd, because for all intents and purposes, we are already.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of the most refreshingly different films in recent memory, and an immensely rich and enjoyable one at that. It’s not too often that a movie with the power to make viewers ache with empathy for a challenging protagonist comes along; but here, at last, is one that has the added bonus of the Coen’s unique style, tunes produced by T-Bone Burnett, a sense of nostalgia for one of the hippest moments in American music history and exceptional performances from not just the lead, but the entire cast.