The art of the folk artist is a complicated one at the best of times as he goes to places and tells us stories that allow for an unvarnished look at the human condition. Inside Llewyn Davis is the kind of film where even such cinematic craftsmen like Joel and Ethan Coen go above and beyond to make something that is easily one of the best films of the year.
The tale of a man at a crossroads, Inside Llewyn Davis is a week in the life of a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) huddled against the unforgiving winter of New York in 1961 with his guitar in tow as he tries to overcome some insurmountable obstacles, a few of which are completely of his own design.
Not the type of film you might be used to from the Coens, but Inside Llewyn Davis is quite simply one of the most emotionally rewarding and deeply layered films to ever come out of the canon. A film that manages to be equally as lush as it does bleak, the craft on display in this film is simply a thing to marvel at it makes for one of the most complete and satisfying cinematic experiences of the year.
The Coens, along with some remarkable cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel, assemble this film by building layers and layers of a universe that maintains a unique visual flare, following its subjects bathed in light, even during moments of shadow as we follow our intrepid hero who isn’t necessarily the most likeable of characters out there.
They wrap it all up in such incredible detail as the production design is simply excellent and meld it with a near ethereal tone to it all that just works. The visuals appear to float through the air much like the notes coming off of Llewyn’s guitar. It all puts us inside of Llewyn’s world as he tries and strives to survive, on his own terms. With the wrong person in the role this film could have gone off the rails, but it features a performance from a man who is easily on his way to being the next breakout star.
Oscar Isaac as our hero Llewyn Davis crafts a man full of flaws, doubts and determination whose self-determined artistic credibility and sense of survival are one in the same as he plods through his existence. Success to him is surviving as things around him crumble and he steps into one problem after another trying to move on and get any kind of traction going in his life. It’s very much a love letter to a time and a character who didn’t necessarily have a lot of hope to live for but it lets him keep living for it, as it’s not about the happy ending for Llewyn it’s about having the will to keep going. Isaac truly finds the core of this man, bringing us along for his journey and never letting us go.
The rest of the ensemble is very solid as Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman all circle his world in various degrees, and with a soundtrack that mirrors the human experience that we follow Llewyn on, it makes it all such a wonderfully enjoyable experience.
Truly a character piece that allows us to hope, hate, love, long and even sympathize with our protagonist, filled with stunning imagery and emotionally lush music, Inside Llewyn Davis is actually a bit of a rarity for the Coen Bros. as it is a film you need to see on as big a stage as possible and let it take you away into this uniquely beautiful universe.
Rating: ***** (out of 5 stars)