Phips’s review published on Letterboxd:
I feel like I must disclose that I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. I own almost their entire filmography and, for the most part, love everything that I've seen of theirs. When I looked them up a few years ago and saw that their next project was about folk music on the east coast I was a little worried; it seemed out of place amongst the rest of their work. I felt that way before I saw this and, after seeing it, I still feel that way.
Present here are a very well-written script, more than a few comedic quips, and good characters. However, I would argue that none of the characters here are as entertaining as those of the earlier Coen films. There wasn't a character that I just fell in love with like Walter or Marge. I do feel like my unintentional comparisons are doing this film and the Coen Brothers a disservice, but when an entire filmography is pretty similar across the board and then a curveball comes out of left field it is hard not to lament the differences. And differences there are. Differences that render me incapable of putting this on the same level as some of the older Coen Bros. films.
For the longest time I had no idea that Oscar Isaac was a musician as well as an actor. Luckily I found that out months before this was released so I was able to go into this viewing knowing that he is a really good singer instead of questioning whether things were overdubbed. I still wonder but that's only because Llewyn Davis's voice was so good that I struggle believing that its Oscar Isaac's. It probably is though. Beyond his musical skills Isaac has some acting skills too. I think I've only seen him in Drive before this and he had quite a small, meaningless role in that film so to see him spearhead a Coen Brothers film and do this good of a job was pleasantly surprising (and shocking as well). He is very good at portraying the pompous asshole and made me kind of despise him a little bit, which is a good thing.
Inside Llewyn Davis is driven entirely by the Coen Brothers' script and Isaac's performance; he commands the majority of the screen time and, armed with the Coens' material, puts the film on his back. The success of the film is basically tied to his performance and luckily for everyone he was up to the task. But herein also lies my issue with this film. In the past, characters and dialogue weren't the only things carrying an original Coen Brothers film--the story bore most of the weight. Here, surprisingly, while Isaac's performance and the dialogue are what we've come to expect from the directing duo, I found the story to be a little weak. I just wasn't as enthralled or sucked in as I have been in the past with their other films. It is still a great film that will garner heaps of praise and recognition, but it is far from the Coens' best work and just as far from being in the highest echelon of 2013 films.