This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Ryan Kirby’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
God bless the Coen Brothers, who else could create such a diverse filmography of such consistently high quality? They can easily glide into any genre of film and nail exactly what they were going for, they are truly some of the most gifted auteurs in the entire industry.
Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen's offering for 2013, and while on the surface it is a more subdued and easygoing tale than their recent offerings, it manages to be one of their most emotional as a result. Llewyn feels real as a person, his relationships and personality have been defined long before the camera intrudes into his life. He bears the scars of a lifetime of disappointment and tragedy, and as we learn more and more about his past, his folk songs become more and more heartbreaking in the context of his life.
The movie seems to go out of it's way to paint a bleak portrait of Llewyn's life. Almost nobody appreciates his music; over and over again he pours out his soul in song, and over and over again he is met with general indifference and polite applause. It is surprising, given the depressing trajectory of the films narrative arc, that the Coen's are able to inject so much vibrant humor into the film without throwing off the tonal balance. The Coen's always have a way with painting local flavor into their landscapes, often utilizing quirky characters to help define the environment, and Llewyn is no exception, these characters lend multiple laugh-out-loud moments to Inside Llewyn Davis that help it from leaning too much into it's bleak nature.
Llewyn Davis is a regular life viewed through an expert cinematic lens, and it seems that standard cinematic tropes are teased often, only to be cleverly subverted. Chekhovs guns are shown fully loaded ("no royalties though"), only to never be fired off, ambiguous symbolism (the cat) is set up only to be written off as nothing other than mundane ("his name is Ulysses"). The structure of the film makes the audience's thoughts mirror Llewyn's, searching for deeper meaning in a world filled with none. In it's limited scope, the Coen's have managed to create one of the most grounded and heartbreaking films they have ever conceived, and I think it will be remembered as one of their unsung classics