Inside Llewyn Davis

January 2, 2014 at 11:49 am | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

When discussing the Brothers Coen, expectations are understandably high.  With an impressive list of almost impossibly good films (“Fargo,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Miller’s Crossing,”: and on and on…), I would be hard pressed to call this one of their best works, yet it still remains one of the best films this year.  The Coens have a jaundiced view of human nature and most of their films portray hapless sad-sacks struggling (and usually failing) in the face of the universe’s utter disinterest. Here, we follow the eponymous folk singer through a meandering journey that ends right where it starts. In this sense, this film most closely resembles “O Brother” and even has a cat named Ulysses to drive home the point: Llewyn Davis is on an epic Odyssian journey.  Like “O Brother” (and “The Odyssey”), we meet various characters along the way; in this case, they all appear to represent various forms of the apathy and cynicism that Davis struggles with internally. Also, like “O Brother,” the music of an era is at the soul of this film and we are treated to some stunning, doleful and haunting folks song, arranged for us by T-Bone Burnett. Oscar Isaac’s fantastic performance manages to wring as much sympathy as possible out of the audience for the morose, hang-dogged and completely self-involved Davis.  Isaac has been building his career over the past 5 years doing mostly background work but proves his mettle as a lead actor here.  The rest of the crew bring in strong performances as well. Carey Mulligen is bitingly funny as the snide Jean and Justin Timberlake nails the wide-eyed naivety and oh-gosh silliness at the heart of some early 60s folk singers. John Goodman shines, as he always does for the Coens, during his too brief time on screen.  I will also mention (with some degree of bragging) that I was able to recognize Max Casella, who long ago played best friend Vinny on “Doogie Howser;” it was nice to see that he has kept very busy over the years.  Moody, haunting, silly, touching, biting, inexplicable… sounds like the Coens to me.

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