Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Film Review: Joel & Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis

Set inside their moody, 'grey skies are never going to clear up' world, the brothers' Coen have created yet another slice of their unique brand of morose emotionally-macabre moviemaking.  And this critic would have it no other way.  Set in the early 1960's, mostly in Greenwich Village (with a sidetrip to Chicago and back), Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer and guitarist, one of Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters, thinking himself one of the best minds of his generation (a thing he may or may not be - we never find out), and several (typical?) days in his down-and-out life.  With the Coens at the helm, don't expect to see any personal growth on the character's part, nor any sunny rays peeking out from behind the gloom and doom of the film's atmosphere, in order to let our not-so-intrepid hero find his way out of the dark days of his life.  No siree, this is not what one should expect from a Coen Brothers film, and once again, this critic would have it no other way.

Now I am not saying there is not life inside the Coens' insular cinematic world, but that life is ofttimes ridiculed by whatever natural or unnatural forces may be crushing down on our protagonist.  Be it the law (Raising Arizona and Fargo), the corporate world (Hudsucker Proxy), the mob (Miller's Crossing), feral criminality (No Country for Old Men), possible insanity (Barton Fink), or perhaps even God himself (A Serious Man), a Coen Brothers' protag is never safe from what could befall and very possibly destroy them.  In their latest film, the duo's sixteenth feature, Oscar Isaac portrays a man who is not necessarily falling apart so much as a man who has never been together.  Like most artists in our society, Llewyn Davis has a dangerous disconnect with the norms of society, and thus has an outsider feel no matter where he goes, even with his fellow artists, with whom he presumably has something in common - and yes, as a lifelong writer and outsider myself, I too can empathize and thus sympathize with Llewyn's feelings of disdain and disgruntlement.  Llewyn is a sad case, but not a terminal case.  He is trapped inside a world he doesn't understand, looking for a way out.  Looking for a way out into the world that he feels he should be part of.  A world where his desires are not looked upon as lesser, but a world where he, as an artist, is respected, perhaps even adored.

And then there's the music.  As melancholy in mood as the film itself, or as Llewyn himself, the array of old folk tunes, sung on film by Isaac, as well as costars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Adam Driver, all arranged by the ever-capable T Bone Burnett give the film a sense of realness.  We aren't just watching a film set in 1961, we seem to be right there as the beat/folk Village scene is about to explode (you'll see a hint of the coming explosion as a certain someone takes the stage near film's end).  The one song actually written especially for the film (co-written by Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens), the comedic bon mot, Please Mr. Kennedy (recently egregiously snubbed by the Oscars), is a shiny highlight in a film full of sad, seemingly endlessly sad, characters.  Now I am sure that those who won't even go near a sad movie (for some reason, everything must be positive for these silly people), will not like this film, even one bit, but for those who want tragic, yet sadly realistic, storytelling, done with a bravura central performance (and wait til ya get a load of John Goodman!), then Inside Llewyn Davis is the film for them/you/us.  Oh yeah, and there's a cat (or two or three) as well.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.


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