It is quite unfortunate that the past couple of years have seen so few films that rely mainly on their musical elements. True, film lovers have been lucky to get great musicals such as Les Miserables and Chicago, but what I mean here are films in which the music is so interwoven into the dialogue that it becomes an inseparable part of it. The last film I have experienced in that way is O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), a delightful film by the Coen Brothers about escaped prisoners set in the American south that starred George Clooney. I guess it should not come as a surprise to me, then, that it took those very same distinguished filmmakers to deliver yet another beautiful film experience via the hypnotic and poetic Inside Llewyn Davis.
Inside Llewyn Davis is directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, and F. Murray Abraham. The film takes place during a week in the life of Llewyn Davis, a struggling musician trying to make it amidst the folk scene in 1961 New York. The motion picture is a music drama that runs for one hour and forty-four minutes.
The acting in Inside Llewyn Davis is nothing short of astonishing. The fact that Joel and Ethan Coen have assembled an amazing ensemble cast that has brought the world of folk music to vibrant and immersive life. It might be unfair to focus on only a handful of performances in the film but I believe Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan deserve the most attention.
Relative newcomer Oscar Isaac plays the lead role of Llewyn Davis and this is clearly his breakout performance that will surely result in him receiving many promising future roles. He is just so excellent as Llewyn that the audience believes in this confused, shy, and kind man from the very first frame. I admire how Isaac is able to fully inhibit his character without any sign of hesitance or over-acting that another actor in his place would have done. Simply put, Oscar Isaac is a key reason why Inside Llewyn Davis is such a great movie, especially his dynamic and authentic musical performances. An actor to watch out for in the future, for sure.
Throughout the past two decades there have been so many great films from the Coen Brothers, many of which have become film classics in their own right. They are a special pairing who have managed to create some of the most entertaining, engaging, and delightful motion pictures ever seen, with Fargo (1996), No Country for Old Men (2007), and The Big Lebowski (1998) but a few examples. With Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers delve into the world of folk music that captivated Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Through their screenplay, they have created the fascinating character, Llewyn Davis, and managed to envelope him in a unique world filled with soul-tingling music, brilliant dialogue, and colorful supporting characters. Their pacing of the film is superb, as per usual, not allowing any unnecessary scenes to ruin what is a perfectly-balanced motion picture. I also commend them for giving their top-notch cast the space to give out what I see as their respective career-best performances, by far.
However, it is the music in Inside Llewyn Davis that gives it a peculiar quality that I have immensely enjoyed. Joel and Ethan Coen worked with T Bone Burnett, a second collaboration after their excellent work in the aforementioned O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), as well as Marcus Mumford, from the band Mumford & Sons. Needless to say, the songs sound fantastic, almost every one of them. My particular favorites are “Please Mr. Kennedy” sung by Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver; “Five Hundred Miles” sung by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands; and “Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)” which is performed by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford. These three songs give Inside Llewyn Davis the soul it needs to rise above mediocrity, reaching greatness. An impeccable soundtrack, to say the least.
I have really, really enjoyed my first viewing of Inside Llewyn Davis. It is easily one of 2013's best films, even, I dare say, one of the best films in the last ten years, at least. The Coen Brothers' selection of Oscar Isaac as their lead actor is inspired and is a key reason why I fell under the spell of this motion picture. But, when combined with the various other carefully-selected filming aspects by this dynamic directing duo, Inside Llewyn Davis becomes something very special, a seldom-felt film experience. And it is that redeeming quality that will surely keep me coming back for repeat viewings for decades to come.
MATM Rating: **** out of ****
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
- Oscar Isaac (as Llewyn Davis)
- Carey Mulligan (as Jean)
1 hours and 44 minutes
Drama / Music