Inside Llewyn Davis is the latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen. It follows the life of Llewyn Davis for a few days as he struggles to re-establish himself as a performer after losing his singing partner Mike. The film features a number of Llewyn’s encounters with characters, who either take part in the folk music scene of 1961 New York, or are friends and family.
As is typical for the Coen brothers’ films these characters enter and exit the plot without any introduction or warning. Since the camera chooses to show only Llewyn’s experiences, it seems that it creates a specific point of view for each character and situation. We see some familiar faces, like John Goodman, and some newcomers to the world of the Coen brothers, like Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac himself. Each of these characters has a different relationship with Llewyn as he is tossed around New York by events he cannot control.
There is a certain melancholy feeling to the film. Partially this is due to the lighting and cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Paris je’taime), which influences our understanding of each scene by mediating Llewyn’s vision of it. It serves as a tool that complements the script, as with every new character the filmmakers present to us there is a new atmosphere to the narrative.
…something in Isaac’s performance renders the plot magical…
The narrative itself plunges into the reality of Llewyn’s life without any preliminary explanations. Instead it leaves Llewyn to lead the audience, giving them an idea what is really inside the protagonist. This is where Oscar Isaac’s performance comes into the picture. He adds a certain dimension of vulnerability, both to Llewyn’s character and his musical performances. Despite his sadness and his outbursts towards some of the characters, something in Isaac’s performance renders the plot magical and makes you smile despite the sadness and loss.
The array of unique characters the film introduces to the viewers are as various as the situations Llewyn overcomes throughout the length of the film. Some of the characters are folk performers, like Llewyn, who somehow seem to be at a better place than him, such as Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) or even Troy Nelson (Stark Sands). Others are people he meets on the road, like Garrett Hedlund’s character, Johnny Five and John Goodman’s musician Roland Turner, who seems to have a lot to say about Llewyn’s choice of folk music.
… these characters are portrayed in depth and with the careful consideration that the viewer will be seeing them for the first time…
The features and relationships of these characters are portrayed in depth and with the careful consideration that the viewer will be seeing them for the first time in the film, and will not be familiar with their past. Despite this, the audience still relates to them through Llewyn.
Once again the Coen brothers have given their audience a film that is not just good, but touching with the depth of its character depictions, the simplicity of its plot, the beauty of its cinematography, and the protagonist who, despite his experiences, manages to make you smile.