As varied as their filmography is, it is easy to put the films of the Coen Brothers into two categories: the whimsical dramedy where its protagonist follows an unfortunate path of events that eventually divides the audience, or the gritty (most likely Western-themed) drama that easily garners critical acclaim. This is the former.
The Coens’ latest offering, Inside Llewyn Davis, revolves around struggling solo folk singer Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), who was one half of a successful folk duo. While coping with the suicide of his musical partner, poor sales of his solo album and having to resort to couch-surfing amongst friends and associates, Llewyn is at a crossroads as to what to do with his life.
Instead of the Coens’ trademark eccentricity, Inside Llewyn Davis takes a slower, almost morose journey on the New York folk music scene in the 1960s. Compared to their recent work, it lacks a punch in terms of story and script. The eponymous character – played by multi-talented Oscar Isaac, previously known for his roles in Robin Hood and Sucker Punch – is frustrated in his efforts in becoming a successful solo singer, with his personal life suffering in the process. Playing quite a complex character, Isaac makes the audience curious about whether Davis’ can find solo success but because he comes across as an unfortunate guy, he mainly attracts pity.
His efforts to return an escaped cat provides slight amusement, as well as John Goodman’s irritable jazzman and bohemian folk couple Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and a very sharp-tongued Carey Mulligan, respectively) but the real star of the film is the music. Inspired by the bluegrass and country from O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Coens collaborator, music producer T-Bone Burnett, it is easy to fall in love with the melancholic, soulful tones of the songs all performed by the actors themselves. Together with the Coen Brothers’ incredible visual prowess in recreating the grainy sight of 1960’s New York, the setting and ambiance is there. It is a such a shame that the story isn’t.
Overall, Inside Llewlyn Davis looks and sounds fantastic, but the indecisive performances from its cast and the aimless story isn’t enough to captivate this reviewer.
Inside Llewlyn Davis is out in UK cinemas on Friday 24th January.
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Runtime: 105 min