“Inside Llewyn Davis” is one of the finest films of the year. That is a plain and simple fact. I can write about how honest the characters are, how well constructed the mood is or how mind-blowing the performances are, but that would be extraneous.
Joel and Ethan Coen have delivered some of the best films in the history of cinema. From “Fargo” to “No Country for Old Men,” they have created timeless pieces with honest characters, and this film is no exception.
In my honest opinion, this may be their best film yet. It’s more affecting than “A Serious Man,” as funny as “Fargo” and as enthralling as “Barton Fink.” It is this mix of these qualities that makes it their most successful, cohesive and entertaining film to date.
The film opens in a dark, smoky café called The Gaslight Café in 1961. Llewyn Davis leans into the mic and begins to sing “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” Audience members sit in silence until Llewyn finishes. The scene sets the melancholy tone of the film and displays Oscar Isaac’s talent as a vocalist.
It’s what the Coens do best. They know how they want their films to look and how they want people to react when watching it. Bruno Delbonnel, the Director of Photography for the film, matched the Coens’ mood with his neutral color palette and rigid camera work.
It’s a film about disappointment of an artist and of a man. Llewyn struggles through the New York folk scene, but perpetually continues on. Why? Because disappointment is inevitable and necessary for an artist to grow. Llewyn is the perfect vessel to experience the film through, mostly thanks to Isaac’s performance.
There are not many actors who would have been able to pull off Llewyn. He’s such a darkly motivated character who is searching for a meaning in life through music. He’s so defeated, but proud. He finds a way to continue on and to continue his work. He tells his sister that he doesn’t want to simply exist.
The Coens handle the subject with such grace. The film is surprisingly funny, with humor that is just as dark as the film itself. However, at the core is an honest character study. The film is so affecting. The Coens know how to make a subject relatable, while Isaac makes him charismatic. You can’t take your eyes off of him.
As Llewyn navigates the entertainment and folk scene of the time period, he scrounges for couches to sleep on and any money he can come across. One of the gigs that he does to earn money is a recording session for the song “Please, Mr. Kennedy,” which is one of the highlights of the strong soundtrack.
Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands and Adam Driver are marvelous as various artists that Llewyn encounters. What makes them more impressive is that all the actors sang live for the film. For the filmmakers to have that much confidence must have been daunting for the actors, but they tackled the 1960s folk music like they were born in that time period.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is an enjoyable film. Many people, audiences and critics alike have and will continue to be entertained by its humor, characters and story. However, the Coens have more to say. Anyone who has worked tirelessly toward a dream will know the feeling the Coens are trying to portray. If you’re up for being emotionally affected by a film, then “Inside Llewyn Davis” is for you.