bluesyasian’s review published on Letterboxd:
While I definitely spend a lot, probably too much, time watching, reading about, and writing about, movies, my first artistic love was, and still is, music. Unlike film, I'm not just an observer, I play guitar and harmonica, and I at least try to sing, mostly doing blues(hence the username) but also dabbling in folk and country. The point being, Inside Llewyn Davis hit me like a boxer's punch. While not everyone who's played music wants to make a living at it, I'd say a good majority have dreams of doing it, myself included. Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about people like that, and how everything isn't like a Hollywood movie. For every Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, there are a 1000 Dave van Ronks, real life Llewyn Davis', failures who never achieve fame or fortune, and unlike the formers, don't get movies about their life.
Llewyn Davis(Oscar Issac) has slept on the couch of everyone in Greenwich Village. A former merchant marine, Llewyn is now a folk singer, and its not going as expected. His barely established duo act is over after his partner threw himself off a bridge, and his solo album is not selling at all. With no home, no money for a winter coat, and no career, Llewyn's luck takes a turn for the worst when Jean(Carey Mulligan) a fellow folk musician, and girlfriend of Jim(Justin Timberlake) of one Lleywn's friends, tells Lleywyn she is pregnant, and that the child is probably his. In need of money for an abortion, Lleywn has to borrow money and play on novelty songs, signing away his royalty rights to get cash quicker. All the while, Lleywyn alienates anyone who tries to help him, while failing to impress those who would could help him. A tired Llewyn must choose between music and returning to the menial work that he left.
Although I generally love the Coen Brothers's comedy, even movies like Burn After Reading that received somewhat mixed reviews, I've never been very fond of their dramas. Their cold, detached style worked very well for their off the wall screwball comedies, but often felt dull when applied to drama. However, Inside Llewyn Davis avoids this completely, despite being even more droll than any other of their films I've seen. The Coen Brothers' New York is not the flashy home of Woody Allen. This city is cold and dreary, perfectly captured by DP Bruno Delbonnel's dark blue and gray, color scheme, with an almost matte like quality to picture. Despite my love for Roger Deakins, his more noir styled photography wouldn't have worked as well as Delbonnel, whose career defining is the quirky and romantic Amelie, something that adds an extra degree of irony to Inside Lleywyn Davis, which crushes any romanticism about a period of American music that has been romanticized constantly.
In typical Coen Brothers fashion, Lleywn Davis is not a particularly likable character. Throughout the film, there is no evidence that he can be nice to anyone, pushing away people that could further his career, yelling at those who give him a place to stay. And yet, the Coen Brothers made a script that makes us want to learn about him, since he has a reason to be bitter. He works hard at his craft, he wants to be good, and due to an excellent performance by Oscar Issac, he is talented. Yet, at every turn there is failure and disappointment, with the only future to look forward to being another couch to sleep on, or maybe at best, strung out in the back seat of a car, going from gig to gig. Oscar Issac fully embraces the sadness of the character, and not only doing an amazing job acting, but also singing, making his performance all the more real. A supporting cast including Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, F. Murray Abraham, and a scene stealing John Goodman(whose last Coen Brothers role was in the folk music filled O Brother Where Art Thou), make up the excellent supporting cast.
However, the real supporting star to Issac, is the music. Though not as iconic as O Brother, Inside Llewyn Davis' boasts a soundtrack that captures the intimate nature of the film, with the film's cast performing all the songs live. Producer T Bone Burnett turns everything he touches to gold, deliver yet another musical gem that should get some attention come award season for both Oscars and Grammys. Most amazingly, he makes Marcus Mumford, a singer who's "folk" music I cannot stand, into a half decent folk singer.
A film by successful artists about failed artists, the Coen Brothers have delivered yet again another look into their complex and depressing world. A must watch.