Inside Llewyn Davis: Cannes 2013 Film Review

2:18 PM

Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis

In the mixed up world of Coen works, Inside Llewyn Davis stands as a rather unique piece agains the hilarious misadventures of films such as The Big Lebowski (1998), Raising Arizona (1987) and O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000). I'm tempted to compare this latest work to No Country For Old Men (2007), but even then, No Country's morbid tone is at odds with the poetic soul of Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). The film follows a week in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a mildly known folk singer, embodying a Bob Dylan-esque sort of life in 1960's New York, as he plays little-attended shows at The Gaslight Café in the West Village. Painted as the unsung genius, Llewyn is at a standstill in his life as he struggles to survive on what little money he has, and on what few friendships remain. One such friendship that draws particular focus is the complex ties between Llewyn, and fellow musicians, Jean (Carey Mulligan) and Jim (Justin Timberlake). While Llewyn holds the raw roots of his soulful folk above all else, Jean and Jim test the waters of mainstream accessibility and stardom, a life that Llewyn holds in little regard. At the risk of revealing too much about the plot, Llewyn is loaded down with constant rejection, grapples with his relationship with his father, and eventually drives to Chicago in a last-ditch effort to salvage his meagre career. 

Though Inside Llewyn Davis is at its heart, a beautifully understated profile, it has some wonderfully funny moments as well - the best of which concerning the tabby cat who more than once, manages to derail Llewyn's already arduous life. One brilliant scene observes a shouting match over the cat's lack of scrotum (I should mention tough that yelling "This cat has no scrotum!" at full volume in the streets of Cannes, among the film elite, isn't really appreciated). There are a few fresh faces to the Coen-verse with Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and Oscar Isaac in the titular role, but there's one Coen regular whom I'm always jazzed to see. Barging unapologetically into this reflective space, is the coked-up, crutch-wielding, asshole jazzman, Roland Turner, played by the large and loud John Goodman. Toss in Steve Buscemi and I'd feel right at home!

Like their 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers took on the talent of T-Bone Burnett to arrange their collection of folk covers. With every soulful performance or every toe-tapping rendition, it's the music of Llewyn Davis that will send you head over heels for the film. Acting as a stark contrast to the grey, frost-licked New York City, the warm passion of the soundtrack is the lifeblood of this beautiful film.

In its running time of 105 minutes, few definite conclusions are drawn in regard to Llewyn's career and with the film ending in the same place as it started, it seems unlikely that he will break free from his cycle of obscurity. But then, the film really isn't about Llewyn's 'career' or his friends, because this is a film about Llewyn. The beginnings of the film highlight a raw, unabashed view on rejection and obscurity accompanied by this nagging expectation that Llewyn's life might blossom into a success story. But ultimately, that's not what the film is about and it's goal is not to satisfy filmic convention. Inside Llewyn Davis is very simply, a soulful and beautifully drawn portrait of a man and his music. 

My rating: 9 cats out of 10

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