Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★½

The revival of folk music from quarters such as Greenwich village and the UK back in the 60's played an important part in the development of modern musical innovation. Rock music is particularly indebted to its reinvention. The Coen brothers take us back to the early years of that movement, following one of the many musicians who over time have fallen by the wayside, despite their obvious talents.

Working on 35mm film has always felt like a natural fit for the brothers thematic storytelling really falling into place here. Inside Llewyn Davis looks like a vintage vinyl record, slightly dusty and faded with a few scratches that mark the troubles of its protagonist on his journey in circles. Round and round he goes, taking one step forward that inevitably leads back to square one again.

A week spent with Llewyn could be symbolic for countless of other musicians from any era or genre of music. We are treated to a collection of numbers from his repertoire making it hard to deny his musical talent. The boy can play, that's for sure. In the hard world of entertainment, that is never enough. Money has to be made, time invested. Back in the 60's if you could start circulating on local radio playlists that was a foot in the door. Llewyn can't even get himself up there. His music is too introverted, too personal. Just not 'catchy' enough.

To us, those outside of the cold-hearted nature of business-led judgement, It is the music that makes us like him after all. Although, away from the solace of his guitar his life is a disaster. We meet him as he is beaten upon in an alleyway, waiting until the end of the film to find out why. His ex-girlfriend may be carrying his child and berates him in the park in what at first seems like a wholly unfair, one sided attack. The longer we spend with the man, the more we understand why others faith in him has faded away, just like his own.

The Coen's lay it on thick for Llewyn in a week that is no doubt representative of his life as a whole. This feels like perhaps their most mature films to date, still containing many of their recognisable traits but also less reliant on caricatures or laughing at a particular genre. Oscar Isaac embraces his role fully bringing to life this artistic dreamer who may one day wake up and realise that the boat has long since sailed off into the distance.

For such an episodic film without any discernible plot it flows in peaks and troughs throughout, reliant on Isaac to help us make it to the end. Understanding what makes him tick is no problem. Like many Coen characters he feels an arms length away from engaging with you, or caring that he fails or succeeds. That detachment makes some sense when integrated with the characteristics of Llewyn and his selfish demeanour. But even though he is written into a empathetic corner through his tribulations and wonderfully acted by Isaac, he still feels transparent enough to fade away.

What the Coen's also regularly achieve is impeccable recreation of a particular era painted with a strong ensemble of actors to bring their scripts to life. Their latest effort is no different in that regard. Complimented by a wonderful soundtrack, Inside Llweyn Davis brings that era of Greenwich village back to life, a look at how art lives or dies in reality.

Steven liked these reviews

All