Another CoBros Gem
January 22, 2014
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Inside Llewyn Davis
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan & Justin Timberlake
Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen
R, 105 min.
“Hang me, oh, hang me,” sings Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in the mesmerizing performance that opens filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coens’ ode to the New York’s Greenwich Village folk music scene of the early 1960s. Llewyn (pronounced Loo-en) doesn’t just sing the song, he inhabits it, picking his guitar and spinning its tale of a weary traveler tripped up by his own missteps, finally surrendering to the noose and the cold, cold ground.
The bleak song sets the stage for the story that’s about to unfold--like a folk song--as we spend a week in the life of Llewyn, a young journeyman singer walking the razor’s edge between the glow of success and the gloom of failure.
There have been many movies about music and musicians, but the Coens--among the most unconventional of commercially successful filmmakers--take a characteristically unconventional path here: Their protagonist is not very likeable, nor very sympathetic, and his messy, meandering story is a tragi-comic odyssey of broken dreams, bashed hopes and bitter truths.
But we feel for him nonetheless, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is another Coen Brothers gem. While not as boisterously entertaining as “The Big Lebowski,” as fabulously tangled as “Fargo” or as much of a toe-tapping toot as “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” it’s cool, clever, cynical and achingly funny, meticulously crafted and marvelously quirky. And you don’t know where it’s going until it gets there--which, as it turns out, is right back where it started.
The soundtrack is outstanding, a slate of mostly traditional folk chestnuts given respectful new spins by producer T Bone Burnett, some stellar backing musicians and the cast, which also includes Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, and John Goodman, another Coen mainstay, as an overfed and overdosed jazz musician.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” may not blow a lot of its competition away at the box office--like some other Coens’ fare, it could be a bit of an acquired taste. But for anyone who can feel its real grasp of its subjects, its music and its times in its deep, dig-it grooves, this cinematic sonnet to a struggling ’60s singer might just become a greatest hit.