Inside Llewyn Davis

In their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers tell a wistful tale about a struggling young singer in New York's pre-Bob Dylan 1960's folk scene. We follow Llewyn (the nearly unknown but incredibly talented Oscar Isaac) over the course of a week as he plays music, antagonizes his friends, and gets himself in and out of predicaments. It's a small but fascinating character study, and an evocation of a storied time in pop culture that brims with music-making and disconnected human interaction. Every supporting role in Davis’ world is perfectly cast, and the Coens, along with DP Bruno Delbonnel (A Very Long Engagement, Across the Universe), paint a vision of the 1961 Greenwich Village winter so vivid you can almost feel the chill and smell the musty, smoky air, and it's all presented in an atypically restrained, observational manner, with none of the quirky, self-aware humor that undercuts some of the brothers' lesser pictures.  Nothing gets between the audience and our impressions of Llewyn.

The songs, produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, are all played through in their entirety and performed live by the actors, often in single takes. This not only gives the film an authenticity most contemporary music movies lack (and much contemporary music lacks for that matter, as playback tracks have become such a staple of pop performance) but seeing how the characters interpret these various numbers gives us more understanding of them than any other aspect of the film. The simple, but ingenious structure enables the story's many layers of meaning to be revealed after the film is over as opposed to while it unfolds. This unique narrative construction gives a us full sense of the main character before we truly understand what the film is exploring thematically. It’s been a while since I've wanted to watch a film again immediately after seeing it, but the music, acting, cinematography and sheer cinematic craft make this an endlessly satisfying movie despite its depressing tone and self-absorbed, not very likable protagonist. The Coens continue to surprise, delight and transfix with this quite picture, which turns out to be one of their best.

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Produced by Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen

Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

With: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella, Jerry Grayson, Jeanine Serralles, Adam Driver, Stark Sands, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Alex Karpovsky, Helen Hong, Ricardo Cordero, Sylvia Kauders, and F. Murray Abraham

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel
Editing: Roderick Jaynes
Music: T-Bone Burnett

Runtime: 104 min
Release Date: 20 December 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1