The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis follows a week in the life of a folk singer trying to make it in the prolific music scene that was Greenwich Village of the early 1960s. Artists were pouring into the area from all around the country trying to be a part of a musical movement that had the promise of changing the world. Oscar Isaac is the titular character, and as we meet him, things are not going so well.
The thing about Davis is he is insanely talented. Yet, his lack of success may be largely due to his own way of doing things. What we like most about this character, although it prevents him from achieving his dreams, is he acts purely out of reaction instead of thinking any particular situation through. And oftentimes, it gets him in trouble. He is homeless. He alienates his friends. His manager can’t find a gig for him. He has gotten his friend’s wife pregnant. You get the picture. Oh, and it’s the coldest week of the year in New York and Llewyn doesn’t even own a coat.
And as you’ve probably seen in the Inside Llewyn Davis trailer, thanks to his irresponsibility, he has a cat that belongs to the person whose home he often crashes at.
Isaac is a revelation and if appearing in a stellar Coen brothers motion picture doesn’t make him a star, we don’t know what will. Not only can he sing like nobody’s business, but he manages to make a character appealing when he honestly is not that at all. The audience pulls for Davis, hoping that fate, luck or a combination of both will shine on him and he’ll catch a break. The thing is, he’s had breaks… and he manages to squander them.
If the entire story sounds like it could be the most poetic of folk songs -- that is no accident. The Coen brothers have crafted a tale that is uniquely theirs and sits firmly in the filmography of the filmmakers who have been enchanting audiences with their unique brand of humor and drama for decades.
What else is ever present in a Coen brothers film is their sense of being in tune, literally, with their soundtrack. And having a film centered on music allows them and their frequent collaborator T. Bone Burnett to put the spotlight firmly on the music as it is as much of an integral character as Davis himself.
Burnett is best known for his Coen brothers work on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Sure, that film had music in it and featured a number or two performed by its leads. But with Inside Llewyn Davis, it is time for the Coen-Burnett tandem to utterly shine.
Burnett has written a slew of new songs for the film that feel as if they were recorded in 1961 in a coffee house on the streets of Greenwich Village. Inside Llewyn Davis also has a cinematic tone that matches its score note for note. In fact, our Inside Llewyn Davis review finds each frame of the film could be the cover of a folk album from that era. That not only is the highest compliment for the movie itself, but also a statement about the complete and utter attention to detail that a pair of filmmakers have for the art form.