“Inside Llewyn Davis” – Review by Zachary Marsh

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Throughout life, there are those who we never give a second glance to, and there are those who rightfully keep popping up and making a significant impact on ourselves.  Throughout the new Coen Brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the title character, played superbly by Oscar Isaac, comes across many different people who come and leave fairly fast and the character never gives them a second thought after they leave.  And believe it or not, that, aside from numerous musical numbers and tons of moving from place to place, is pretty much all that happens in the entire movie.  This film isn’t told in a proper narrative, rather it simply shows a week in the difficult and disappointing life of struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis.  While the film is a slow burner for the most part, this snippet into Llewyn’s life is a gloomy, darkly funny, and enchanting narrative that is a must see for music lovers, movie lovers, and Coen Brothers fans especially.

Ever since I saw “Sucker Punch,” I’ve been a fan of Oscar Isaac and his ever growing catalog of filmography.  While he had other supporting roles in films like “Drive” and “Robin Hood,” I was waiting for that one leading role that could put him on top.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is just that role I was looking for.  The character of Llewyn is a grim and devious person, and yet through all of his unlikable traits, you still feel pity for him when he’s rejected by his colleagues and others he meets throughout the film.  And boy, does Isaac carry this film with heavy force.  Not only does he give a wonderful performance in the movie, but his singing voice is both haunting and enchanting, especially in the film’s opening song and when he sings “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” alone with his guitar alone on stage.  It’s a very haunting, raw, and natural voice that paints the picture of a lost soul trapped in his own version of the apocalypse.  Almost as good as Isaac is Carey Mulligan, aka the only other person in the film that’s given any type of character development.

Mulligan’s character Jean, from the moment she first appears on screen, has an angry attitude towards Llewyn that never picks up at all.  The reason why she is mad at Llewyn I’d rather keep behind closed doors because I feel that not knowing why she’s mad at him kind of adds to the fun in a sense.  Mulligan’s portrayal is not only believable, but just simply entertaining because of her ever-growing anger towards him.  Plus, the song that she sings on stage with Justin Timberlake and Stark Sands is a beautiful one to listen to, and her voice only elevates the power of it.  As for the other supporting players in the film, they are all good, however they aren’t in the movie that much to make a huge impact on the audience.  Believe it or not, there is a reason for that.

The whole movie doesn’t play like the typical linear plot-driven story, rather it plays out exactly how life does: unpredictable and sometimes boring.  This snippet into Llewyn’s life might not be the most entertaining of stories, but it is a fascinating exploration into the life of a man who just never seems to have his way.  For those who complain about the lack of screen time with John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and others featured in the movie, I personally don’t think they got the point on exactly WHY they’re not in the movie so much.  The people who come and go into Llewyn’s life for the most part don’t make that much of an impact on him, therefore he doesn’t give them a second thought.  The only two characters Llewyn even comes in contact with for more than 30% of the movie is Carey Mulligan’s character and a cat that he reluctantly takes with him after both are locked out of an apartment that Llewyn was staying at for the night prior.  The reason for this is because they keep popping up into Llewyn’s mind and life ever so often throughout this hectic week, and they both have something to do with him personally that I won’t give away here.

I give props to Joel and Ethan Coen for telling this story in this fashion because in that, they give us more time to focus on this character’s journey in life rather than a fully drawn out plot or situation that Llewyn could have come across.  They could have just had this movie be about Llewyn’s journey with John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund’s characters as they head to Chicago.  They could have made the whole film about the conflicts that Llewyn and Carey Mulligan’s characters have throughout the week.  Instead, they let this awful week for Llewyn pass by in a slow, drawn out, and fascinating way, while at the same time stitching it together with beautiful music, a wicked sense of dark humor, and some fascinating characters whom never really are mentioned again once their time in the film comes to a close.

The producer of the soundtrack for this movie is T Bone Burnett, and what he does with the music in this movie is simply outstanding.  The songs in this film aren’t there to merrily transition into another scene or symbolize what’s going on in the story like what a “Glee” episode usually does.  Instead, the music in this film are a character on their own.  Each song in a way is a piece of Llewyn’s soul being reflected in a harmonious tone, even when the song is insanely over the top like how the song “Please Mr. Kennedy” is.  Overall, each piece of music performed in this film is superb, and I’d argue that this movie may very well have the single best soundtrack I’ve heard all year.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t a movie, rather it’s an experience into the muck and soul of the Folk scene in the 1960s.  The acting is superb, the story is fascinating and bitter, and the script is both darkly funny and very sad to witness.  Everything about this movie just simply worked for me, and I give credit to Joel and Ethan Coen for giving moviegoers this unorthodox yet realistic view into the life of a miserable and slimy individual whom we happen to care for when he’s at the bottom of his own pit of misery.  The film might be slow at times, and it might have characters who we’re barely given enough time to get invested with, but isn’t that how life is for the most part?  Whether you’re a Coen Brothers fan, a music lover, or a movie lover, this film has something for everyone to enjoy, but some more than others.  Overall, I loved this movie, and I can’t wait to see it once again and share this experience with other friends of mine.

 10/10

Written by

Zachary Marsh has been reviewing movies since 2009 and has been reviewing for We Live Film since 2012. His passion for movies is undying, and isn’t afraid to say whether or not he likes a film that others call terrible.

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