Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★★

The circular structure of the film mirrors its main theme: life caught in a cycle of rejection and bitterness. Llewyn Davis is a folk musician, eking out a meagre living playing gigs at The Gaslight, sofa surfing among his dwindling circle of Village friends and hoping against hope that his solo album, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' somehow gets out of the basement and propels him into the big time.

At first it's hard to understand why wherever he turns, Davis is met with either indifference or vitriol but as the movie wears on, it starts to become apparent. More often than not, he bites the hand that feeds and revels in being a morose, mean-spirited jerk. It may be a Catch 22, contempt breeding contempt, but he seems unable or unwilling to break out of his desultory drifter's mindset. If that's all there was to it, it'd be a depressing grind, but this is the Coen Brothers we're talking about and one of their greatest gifts lies is teasing the absurd from the everyday. The script has a rich seam of black humour running through it. There's nothing overtly flashy - this is the Coens at their most low key - but there's still gold in the bottom of the pan. Oscar Isaac is a minor revelation in the lead role. He brings a sense of deep sadness to the character, but also a schadenfreude you can't help laughing at. The supporting cast is great, especially Carey Mulligan as his venomous ex and John Goodman in an amusingly nasty cameo that recalls his role in Barton Fink. Here he plays a vile jazz snob, who, when he's not ramming his cane into Davis's shoulder blades, sprawls on the back seat of Johnny-5's car, tongue lolling, drugged up and out to lunch.

As with my favourite films by the bros, it's not really about anything in particular. Even as a pure character study, there's no conventional arc: no rise and fall, no personal growth or lessons learnt. There's no redemption for Llewyn Davis - he's a disdainful, self-regarding dick when the film starts, and he's still a dick when it ends - but damn, if he hasn't got under your skin in the meantime; for all his flaws, he's very relatable. The cinematography is excellent and understated, focused on evoking a certain feeling and a sense of place, not drawing attention to itself. The music is similarly integral. Music is the life blood of any Coens' film and this is no exception - it's up there with O Brother in terms of dovetailing diegetically with the story, striking a bittersweet chord for characters and audience alike. Inside Llewyn Davis is a gem. My only grievance is that it's probably the last good Coen Bros movie I hadn't already seen.

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