★★★★ | Inside Llewyn Davis

Poor Llewyn is both a loser and a user. Nothing is safe in his hands as his life careers from disaster to disaster whilst he goes from crashing on couch to couch in his long-suffering friend’s New York apartments. He even manages to lose one of his host’s cat that he lets escape into the streets.

Inside Llewyn Davies is the Coen Brother’s wonderful take on the early 1960’s folk music scene in Greenwich Village that focuses on good-looking 30-something year old Llewyn whose songs are as bleak as his very messy life. He treats everyone so shabbily that it is a complete surprise that anyone puts up with him at all. There’s Jean, who sings with her husband Jim when she is not sleeping with Llewyn and half of the folk club circuit. She blames Llewyn for her pregnancy and although he unquestioningly accepts responsibility for paying for an abortion, in reality it may not even be his child.

There’s Joy his resentful sister who allows Llewyn to crash in the Long Island house that had once been their childhood home just so that she can nag him to give up singing and go back to being a merchant seaman. And in uptown Manhattan, there are the Columbus scholars the Gorfiens whose cat he loses, but it also turns out that they were the parents of Llewyn’s late singing partner who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.

Everybody on the folk club circuit is enjoying more success than Llewyn even though he think he has much more talent, but he fails miserably to earn their respect or worthwhile gigs or even a decent Agent.

Why such a depressing tale should be so watchable is totally down to the Coen’s obsessive attention to detail. It’s a glorious period piece shot in smoky hues that makes it feel like a black & white movie that has been hand tinted with some color. The acting from this incredible ensemble is top-notch but the production design and cinematography deserves star billing too. The fact that we get so engaged in watching the story of a loser is because he is played by a remarkable relatively unknown actor Oscar Isaac (and local Miami boy) who was nothing less than sensational in this his first ever lead role.

Rounding out the cast were the superb Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as Jean and Jim, Garret Hedlund as Johnny Five, and John Goodman playing the obnoxious loud-mouthed Roland Turner.

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My initial reaction after viewing this, was one of stunned silence as I had simply not been prepared for what a downer the actual story was. Now on reflection, and I am wallowing in the memory of the sheer pleasure of what a powerful character study of such a flawed character it was in such a magnificent set piece. And lest I should forget there was all that music too that had been ex-produced by none other than T Bone Burnett.

It won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and is unmissable, as it could even be the best Coen Brothers yet. And that is really saying something.

 

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