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Inside Llewyn Davis - Review

Inside Llewyn Davis

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE Coen brothers have struck gold again with Inside Llewyn Davis, a darkly comic insight into the life of a struggling folk singer in New York in the early 1960s.

When we first meet Llewyn (played by Oscar Isaac) he is performing on stage, basking in the warm glow of a spotlight and huddled over his guitar, apparently at ease with the world and himself despite the downbeat nature of the song’s lyrics.

But within moments, he has been beaten up in an alleyway, is seen to drift from one bed or sofa to the next and has potentially gotten another friend pregnant. Llewyn’s life is unravelling and time is running out for him to get his career on track.

The ensuing film plays out over a few short days and is a generally absorbing affair that bears all the usual Coen trademarks: great script, vividly drawn characters and a melancholy undercurrent to offset the wit.

Llewyn is a fascinating central presence, by turns self-serving and arrogant yet sympathetic and endearing. He’s a singer-songwriter ahead of his time, caught between a shift in movement of the folk scene that he’s probably too far ahead of. But he doesn’t always do himself any favours with his attitude, both towards friends who are prepared to put a roof over his head or industry people willing to give advice he might not heed.

As Llewyn, Isaac seizes a rare leading role with both hands, inhabiting this shambolic rogue wholly and chronicling his journey from hopeful to hopeless in impeccable fashion. Equally at home behind the mic and plucking the guitar strings as he is at interacting with his illustrious co-stars, this is a wonderfully absorbing showcase for a hitherto under-rated character actor.

But then he also has a veritable treasure trove of riches to draw from, whether it’s the T Bone Burnett produced, Marcus Mumford penned songs or his co-stars.

And the Coens have amassed a rogue’s gallery of colourful support who each bring something to the mix, whether it’s Carey Mulligan’s pissed off one-time lover, Justin Timberlake’s amiable friend and fellow singer (his big song is a highlight), John Goodman’s typically larger-than-life traveller or Stark Sands’s amiable GI (whose presence serves to provide a good Elvis joke).

The Coens, meanwhile, display an obvious affection for the period and imbue the film with a typically stylish look, while shooting in the smaller scale intimacy of works such as A Serious Man.

A recurring gag involving a marmalade cat serves as a useful reminder of the brother’s wicked wit.
Inside Llewyn Davis may not boast as high a profile or attract the same groundswell of admiration as some of their very best work (No Country For Old Men, True Grit or O Brother Where Art Thou?) but it’s a consistently enjoyable journey that yields rich rewards for those who take it.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: January 24, 2014