Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Release Date: 24th of January
When exploring the past trajectory of the Coen brothers, it is obvious that the same themes such as the pursuit of security, identity and wealth have always shone through. Their male protagonists become figures of tragedy as their lives unravel around the attempted achievement of these goals.
For Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), the protagonist of Inside Llewyn Davis, his unravelling is the direct shaming of that identifying theme, pursuing the inexplicably fine line between true artistic expression and the careerist mentalities he derides.
The plot is based on the life of Dave Van Ronk, a member of the acoustic folk revival of the 1960s, who many saw as the perfect embodiment of what the Greenwich Village scene was all about. Bob Dylan famously admitted to having copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase to fully understand the feel and energy of the folk style.
The film follows Davis in the week following the suicide of his musical partner Mike (Marcus Mumford), as Davis struggles not only with the uncertainty of his personal relationships, but also his internal struggle with continuing as an artist as he witnesses his friend’s continued successes.
The cinematography in Inside Llewyn Davis is a blended and cold palette of greys and whites, all intercut between the luminous yellows of the New York lights, and the reclusive and reserved stage. Bruno Delbonnel creates a microcosm of expression in his relationship with the compositions of Marcus Mumford and T-Bone Burnett.
The film’s primary achievement is how it tackles the many views of artistic expression in relation to success. What allowed people to emerge from the scene was people such as Davis. He is infatuated with pure expression and inherently disgusted by the corporate nature that exists at the higher levels.
The music of Inside Llewyn Davis cannot be understated, its use as a medium of storytelling is fully on display and utilised by the Coen’s in often subtle and devastating revelations. Songs pop up again and again, with a distinct audio narrative becoming apparent. Its use of non-linear storytelling ensures that like any good folk song, when you relieve previously witnessed moments, you see them in a faltered and changed light.
Despite a male dominated cast, the most intriguing storyline is that of Jean (Carey Mulligan), who appears through Davis’ eyes as deeply resentful and deceitful. As the film and its soundtrack moves on, we see her at once as a survivor and someone who craves succcess to her own detriment.
In a nutshell: A slow burner with an incredible awareness and modern outlook of its source materials ability to combine and make a work of incredible depth and character.