After nearly 30 years of making movies, from the goofily comedic Raising Arizona to the Oscar-courting Fargo, the Coen brothers have attained a rare status nowadays: directors the general public pays attention for. “Coen brothers movies” aren’t released; they arrive.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the brothers’ 18th film, centres itself on the folk singers of Greenwich Village in 1961. The titular character, played by 10 Years’ Oscar Isaac, is one such artist. In the wake of his former singing partner committing suicide, Davis grumpily sings his songs for heckling crowds, struggles to make meagre amounts of money, and sleeps on a different acquaintance’s couch every night.
As a character, Llewyn Davis is a horrible person. He sleeps with a married woman (and possibly impregnates her), he gets angry with everyone close to him while abusing their generosity, and he even heckles an elderly woman to tears. Isaac has such a curmudgeonly charm, though, that it elevates the character. Davis is his own worst enemy, by Isaac still makes you feel bad for him.
Much like the aimless Davis, the plot of the movie bounces around from setting to setting. One the one hand, the movie’s lack of kinetic action is smartly reflective of Davis’s stagnation as an artist. On the other, many scenes in the middle third of the movie could almost be shuffled around with negligible effect on the overall film.
While the story leaves something to be desired, nothing else about the film disappoints. The performances, from Isaac’s to Carey Mulligan’s to Justin Timberlake’s to John Goodman’s, are all fantastic and the characters feel completely three-dimensional. The soundtrack, sung entirely by the cast, is haunting and catchy. The lighting, the cinematography, the directing, the costumes — it’s all beautifully done.
Inside Llewyn Davis feels like a fusion of the Coens’ comedic and dramatic sensibilities, and the tone mostly works. It isn’t as outright funny as The Big Lebowski or as prestigiously dramatic as No Country for Old Men, but Inside Llewyn Davis arrives in style and makes a lasting impression with a voice all its own.