Saturday, January 18, 2014


Directed & written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Cast: Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, Adam Driver, Max Casella, F. Murray Abraham 

By James Colt Harrison 

Brothers Joel & Ethan Coen have always made unusual and interesting films (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, True Grit ), both writing and directing them in tandem. As such, they have built up a cult of followers who hang on every piece of film the boys produce. That’s how their film The Big Lebowski  has become a cult film with annual showings at colleges around the country. In this reviewer’s college days it was Casablanca that got the cult admiration, decades after its initial release. Times change as do tastes. It’s not certain the Coen’s latest effort will achieve that exalted status of cultism, but it will probably draw huge crowds of folk music fans. 

The film follows a bleak week in the life of aspiring musician Davis, played laconically by the Italianate-attractive Oscar Isaac, (although of Guatemalan-Cuban descent) a somewhat unknown actor at this point. After graduating from Juilliard School in 2005, he made several appearances in films, one of which was The Bourne Legacy. 

It is hard to reason why the film won the Grand Prix award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival because of its somewhat downbeat approach to the lead character’s life in New York.  But despair to us is ecstasy to European film critics, and there you have it!  

Isaac plays Davis as a talented singer-songwriter who is trying to break into the New York folk singing craze during the early 1960s. Although not without talent, he has the annoying tendency to make things worse for himself and to shoot himself in the foot every time he may be getting a break in the music business. Producers such as Bud Grossman ( F. Murray Abraham ) simply give up on him. 

The film was inspired by the life of the real-life folksinger Dave Van Ronk, (The Mayor of MacDougal Street) a performer who had some local success in the Greenwich Village scene. Davis makes it hard for us to root for him as he struggles to find a gig because basically he is not a likeable character. Not horrible, but not very cuddly. In addition to his career woes, former romance-for-a-night Jean (Carey Mulligan) is shrill and a shrew who won’t forgive him for getting her in a motherly way. As Davis said, ”It takes two to tango.” Jean is now involved with singer Justin Timberlake, a nice guy who gets Davis work in a recording session. 

Folk music fans must give credit to musical impresario T. Bone  Burnett for  supervising the music and for selecting the appropriate songs. Although we are not folk music enthusiasts, the music selected added to the entire ambiance of the film and captured the  hippie era.
Inside Llewyn Davis is one of those love-hate movies. You certainly won’t be neutral about it. There’s only one way to tell---go see it!

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