Friday, January 10, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis review

For years, Joel and Ethan Coen have been creating unique films that are loved by critics and audiences. From Oscar winners like No Country for Old Men and True Grit to cult classics like The Big Lebowski, there's no question that the Coen Brothers are incredibly influential and talented filmmakers. Their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, seems destined to join one of those two lists. Inside Llewyn Davis is a smaller film from the Coen Brothers. There are no major superstars nor is there a big studio behind it, but the fact that it's a smaller film doesn't make Inside Llewyn Davis a lesser achievement. In fact, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the best films of the year. I haven't seen too many other films from Joel and Ethan Coen, but I can say that watching this one makes me want to see more of their films. Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't worry much about plot. Instead, it works as a series of great scenes. It's well-acted, well-written, and has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. All of that adds up to an offbeat, incredibly interesting movie experience.

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the story of the the title character, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). Davis is a folk singer in 1960's New York, who really isn't successful. He had a partner, but he's gone, and he doesn't have much of a solo career. When we meet Llewyn Davis, he's at the Gaslight, a gig that he's played at hundreds of times. The film chronicles Davis' journey as he jumps from couch to couch and house to house. Davis occasionally lives with Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), who work as a singing duo. They try to help Davis out, but honestly, he's a bit of a jerk. Eventually, Davis goes on a journey from New York to Chicago with Roland Turner (John Goodman) and Johnnie Five (Garret Hedlund) to play for a club owner (F. Murray Abraham).

That synopsis was very hard to write, because if I'm being honest, Inside Llewyn Davis doesn't have a traditional plot. The film is pretty much a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, and I really think that people should know that going in. The audience I saw the film with laughed occasionally, but didn't really seem to enjoy the film all that much. They walked out with mixed reactions. I personally think that if you go in with the right mindset, Inside Llewyn Davis can be a fantastic experience. The soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard, the performances are good, and best of all, each and every scene is wonderful and memorable.

As I've said, I can't really comment much on the story of Inside Llewyn Davis, but I can say a lot about the way the film felt and flowed.  I look at Inside Llewyn Davis as a film made up of scenes that show us this character's life. And I thought that it flowed extremely well from scene to scene. Each and every scene felt important in some way, and there are no throwaway scenes. Some of the scenes are hilarious and entertaining, and others are terribly sad and downbeat. But each and every one is memorable.

Inside Llewyn Davis also puts a lot of importance on tone and mood. The sort-of sepia tone look to the film makes the film feel slightly downtrodden at times, but the lighting makes each scene feel different. For example, the early scenes in Greenwich village and at the Gaslight have a slightly lighter tone and the lighting is altered. Later, there are scenes on the road with Roland and Johnnie. Those are dark, depressing scenes and the cinematography is pretty dark. The lighting and cinematography in this film was incredibly effective at conveying the mood of the film, and I give a lot of credit to Bruno Delbonnel, the cinematographer, and the Coens for getting across so much just with the lighting.

The acting in Inside Llewyn Davis is also fantastic. Oscar Isaac is really great in the film as the titular character. He gives the character real depth and can often make you overlook the character's mean behavior. His performance won't quite get an Academy Award, but I still thought that he was a crucial part of developing the character to make him as interesting as he is. Carey Mulligan does a lot of screaming, Justin Timberlake plays the nice guy well, and F. Murray Abraham has a memorable, one scene role. One of the oddest sections of the film is the car ride with Roland and Johnnie. Goodman delivers some laughs as Roland during a rather bleak section of the film and Garret Hedlund does something as Johnnie. I don't know what it was, but he was doing something.

The music in Inside Llewyn Davis is pitch perfect. If the music was taken away from this film, I'm almost sure that it wouldn't be as good, and it certainly wouldn't flow as well as it does. The music is the pulse of this film and all of it is so, so good. The standout song is "Please Mr. Kennedy", a hilarious folk track about not wanting to go to space. "Fare Thee Well" is also a knockout, and "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" is pretty darn good as well. This soundtrack is just too good. It's amazing.

Another one of the great things about the film is that it stays true to its title. It really gets under the skin of Llewyn Davis and you really get to understand and care about him, despite him being a jerk. I wouldn't say that you ever care about him in the sense that you really want him to succeed, but you know that he can and you sympathize with his struggle. And you know that he's a good, talented guy. You feel bad for every bad decision that he makes, and you just want him to catch a break. Llewyn Davis wants to do the right thing, he just doesn't know how to connect. That's what the film wants you to take away, I think. There's even a line in the film that says all of this. Llewyn Davis is a complex character and I found him really interesting to dissect and talk about after watching the film.

My only problems are incredibly minuscule. I thought that the drive to Chicago, while one of my favorite sections of the film, was a little vague and too weird. The character of Johnnie Five is just useless and doesn't really make much sense. Roland is very entertaining, but you never really know what happens to him, which is odd. But that's honestly just how this film operates. It really is just a week in the life of Llewyn Davis and you never do have any other character arcs that don't involve him. Another small problem is that I wasn't always terribly invested in Llewyn Davis. There were times where I was more interested in him as a character than I was invested in him emotionally. But I guess that could just be me.

One of the most interesting and heavily discussed aspects of this film has to do with the cat. Why is the cat there and what does it mean? The answer to that is completely subjective. A lot of people don't really seem to get what Inside Llewyn Davis means as a film. And the truth is, if the Coen Brothers truly meant for it to mean something, they failed. But I don't believe that they did.  Inside Llewyn Davis isn't really a film about anything but a character's struggle for success, but that doesn't mean that I don't believe certain things have significance. And I believe that the cat has true significance. The cat is Llewyn Davis' life. That's what I took away from the film. In a way, I recognized this before the film was released. There was a line in the trailer that is in the movie and it's spoken by Llewyn. A character asks him what's up with the cat and Llewyn replies: "It's not my cat. I just didn't know what to do with it." Llewyn really doesn't know what to do with anything. He's a lovable jerk who makes bad decision after bad decision, and I believe that the cat really does mirror his life.

All in all, you can examine Inside Llewyn Davis as a film to an extreme, but I'm not sure that you'll find too much. I'm sure that other things have significance in the film, but I really didn't see a ton that jumped out at me. I just think that this is a great film with excellent performances about a week in this character's life. Every single scene in this movie is utterly captivating and I think that some people will really love this film. Emphasis on the word some. This is not a movie for everyone. But if you're serious about film and can do without a traditional narrative story, you are most certainly in for a treat with Inside Llewyn Davis. It's one of the most interesting and fresh movies of the year, and I loved just about every second of it.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.2/10)

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