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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – I adore the Coen Brothers. I’ve seen every single one of their films and own most of them. I believe that they make some of the most unique and challenging films out there. So when the opportunity to see a free preview screening of their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, I jumped at the opportunity.
Llewyn Davis is a folk singer struggling to get by in New York City in the early 1960’s. He jumps from apartment to apartment for a place to sleep. He crashes on couches and often upsets and alienates himself from the owners of those couches. All in all he is just another artist struggling to get by in a big city.
This is bar none one of the most intriguing films I’ve seen this year. Joel and Ethan Coen tend to make the gears in my head start to spin. It’s an exquisitely crafted film with beautifully composed shots and tight Coen Brothers dialogue. There are scenes that just pop out as classic Coen scenes and they are played perfectly by the actors.
There’s a load of talented people in this film. Carey Mulligan stands out as Llewyn’s ex girlfriend who is probably the angriest with him because she once loved him. Justin Timberlake has a brief couple of scenes that he does good work in, but he is mostly in the film to add his lovely voice. F. Murray Abraham shows up for a bit too and whenever he is in something I wonder why he isn’t in more things. But the standout of the supporting cast was John Goodman who drops in for a while too to say some of the best lines in the whole film.
However, the main attraction is Oscar Isaac as the titular Davis. His performance is center stage and it is fascinating to watch. Llewyn Davis is the Coen’s most layered character since The Dude. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and his journey kept me on the edge of my seat. The Coens create these great characters that make me want to write papers about long after I’ve left the theater.
In the middle of the film something struck as to why I found Llewyn Davis the man so compelling. It’s because there are certain arts that feel much more raw than others. There’s no role to hide behind or canvas to show off, it’s just your thoughts. I think this of stand ups and now I lump folk singers in that as well. A lot of folk singers that I enjoy have this raw energy to them. Listening to them I think “They didn’t want to do this. They need to do this.” The film opens with Llewyn singing a song called “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” that makes me think. He might wish he was dead, but he can’t express it unless it’s through music.
That’s what makes it so saddening to watch Llewyn’s journey. There is a moment when he is giving it his absolute all and it doesn’t pan out. This is a starving artist movie and it was hard to watch when this could happen to any of us who decide to take this path. I feel like a lot of people will see Llewyn as an asshole and they’re right to a degree, but I also see him as a man that’s been made that way. He’s a man embittered by all this rejection and tragedy that has revolved around him. What makes him so rich is that despite everything that happens to him, we know that his art is all that he really has. Even if he pushes everyone away, he still has his music.
Despite that, there are some things about the film that I didn’t care for as much. I know that the Coens tend to not tie up loose ends, but in Llewyn Davis, they introduce all these potential storylines that never really get addressed. That’s fine in some respects like in No Country For Old Men or A Serious Man, but here it stuck out like a sore thumb. Also despite the fun performance from John Goodman, his whole section the film felt a tad wedged in.
I really liked Inside Llewyn Davis. I want to say that I loved it, but I can’t yet. I have a policy that I must really see the Coen’s films twice before I formulate a full opinion of them. There are great moments and scenes throughout the film, but there are others that don’t quite work. As a result the film as a whole doesn’t fully work all the way. I still find it to be one of the best films of the year and I will still be thinking about it long after I’ve finished writing these words.
Inside Llewyn Davis opens this Friday at Worcester Showcase North