Neely’s review published on Letterboxd:
Inside Llewyn Davis nails the tone it is aiming for right on the head. Watching Llyewn in his light tweed blazers and fingerless gloves tackling the ruthless winter in '61 New York, really transports you into its specific era. In fact, I really expected to just adore this film since it centers around folk music, prominently features a cat and includes heaps of wonderful talent, but I wasn't completely enthralled by its use of drifting characters.
Let me divulge the positive aspects of this film. I must say from the first scene to the last, every shot looks incredible. The colours are so dense and bleak and suit the February faces of the '61 folk music scene so well that they are heavily cocooned in earthy tweeds and scraggly wool and have complexions like porcelain dolls. Hallways are narrow, roads are abandoned and despite Llewyn being surrounded by people and a mischievous cat, he is ultimately very lonesome. I can actually imagine this film in standard black and white film, but the little rays of light in the colour of the cat or a cab give that tiny bit of positivity the audience needs.
Explain the cat. I read a lot on the cat as he must have had some sort of symbolic significance since his screen time is often longer than many of the supporting characters. There is speculation that the cat represents Llewyn's former singing partner, Mike Timlin, and Llewyn must learn to let him go spiritually. I don't think my interpretation is any more insightful, but I do think that the cat is a sort of symbol for Llewyn's lack of responsibility and consequences. Something he is not willing to face unless he is forced to which is conveyed when the cat escapes and he has little choice but to watch it. Llewyn has to learn that he can no longer be the selfish, ignorant person that depends on the assistance of his friends. He must learn from the consequences of his actions that he continues to behave, but does he? I honestly don't think so which makes me question what was the point of this film? All I can answer is: music.
Music drives Llewyn to wake up every morning despite his failures and misfortunes and it's a damn good reason to see this film. Please Mr. Kennedy (I Don't Want to Go) is one of the most memorable songs; it makes me so giddy and joyful. The opening Hang Me, Oh Hang Me is soulful, morose and serene and sets the entire tone of the film. The rest of the soundtrack is also very strong and it's a shame it was snubbed by the Oscars for a nomination.
The only beef I really have with the film is its rocky use of its supporting characters, because its light plot seems to be intentional. The supporting cast is very scattered and short lived and I find it difficult to find significance in their existence in the film. For instance, John Goodman's character is amusing, but all I recall is the constant jab of his walking stick. The plot is uneventful and uninspiring, but I kind of like it that way. It is refreshing to watch a film and not being told exactly how to react or what to think of its characters. Some will loath Llewyn, some will admire and others, like myself, will be left feeling on the fence, because he is too often pardoned for his actions and yet his musical talent is extremely heartening.
The Coen brothers have made a film that I have constantly been thinking about. I find it needed a little time to stew in my mind before I could come to a final conclusion: time can't erase what we see and do, but music can carry it along with its tune.