Brothers’ movies don’t look, sound, or feel like anyone else’s, and they assert
that individuality once again in Inside Llewyn Davis. Whether or not
you’re a fan, you have to admire their ability to put a personal stamp on everything
they do. I didn’t love their newest film, but I find myself thinking about it a
lot, from the wonderful music score (produced by T-Bone Burnett) to the
evocative look of early 1960s New York City. As usual, there are colorful “star
turns” for great character actors like John Goodman and F. Murray Abraham, rich
opportunities for such talents as Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver, and a
parade of striking but unfamiliar faces who add Coen-like texture to smaller
Then there’s Oscar Isaac, who delivers a star-making performance in the title role. (He impressed me with his charisma—and his musical ability—in a tiny film called 10 Years, but that was just a warm-up for this expansive showcase.) Llewyn Davis is a gifted folk singer and musician who is certainly his own worst enemy: irresponsible, self-destructive, unwilling to compromise for the sake of his foundering career. He manages to alienate friends, lovers, and business associates with equal skill and thoughtlessness. The movie paints a vivid portrait of apartment life in the City, the Greenwich Village nightclub scene, and a typical recording studio of the time. The work of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designer Jess Gonchor is superb.
But while this chamber piece is well acted and meticulously crafted, down to the tiniest detail, it’s not a film one can cozy up to. That’s not the Coens’ intention, of course, but it almost seems as if they’re making an effort to push the audience away—like their oddly-named protagonist. That’s why even after several months (when I saw it at Telluride) I hold certain moments dear but can’t muster any real affection for the film as a whole. I admire and respect what Joel and Ethan Coen have created. They’ve given us a unique moviegoing experience, and that’s no small achievement. It’s just difficult to recommend to anyone but a Coen camp follower.