Leave it to the Coen Brothers to come up with a film full of colorful characters, although not always likeable, delicious dialogue, and a tale that may hold moral implications for many viewers. Such is their latest outing, Inside Llewyn Davis. The title character is an aspiring folk singer at the beginning of the folk singing renaissance in 1961. He started as one-half of a duo, which broke up, and now he’s trying for a solo career. Llewyn Davis is completely at loose ends. He’s on the outs with what’s left of his family, has no permanent address, and is getting nowhere fast with his chosen profession. He spends the film on a journey of discovery…but for what? Fame? Love? Or maybe just looking for himself, whoever that may be.
Unable to afford an apartment, or even a winter coat, Llewyn Davis is constantly on the move looking to bum a couch for the night from people he knows or encounters. And he’s constantly dragging along his guitar, a suitcase, and eventually a cat. You might say that no matter where he goes, he carries a lot of baggage with him. In every sense of the word. Llewyn Davis is played by Oscar Isaac, an actor who’s been knocking around for several years doing minor work in film and television before landing this first starring role. And star he does, since the film is all about him. I was reminded of Mark Ruffalo, another terrific actor, then read another critic’s comment that he was reminded of Al Pacino in Serpico. Both allusions are compliments to Isaac’s acting ability.
While on his journey of discovery, Llewyn Davis encounters many people who are personified by terrific actors giving it their all. Carey Mulligan is once again stunning as someone who really seems to detest him. We eventually find out why. I was not totally wowed by Mulligan in the beginning of her career, but she seems to get better with each film. She is the marriage and singing partner with another folk singer played by Justin Timberlake, who has developed into a fine actor. His major scene, where he and Davis and another singer perform a song he had written called “Please, Mr. Kennedy” is very funny.
Out of luck and prospects, Llewyn Davis hires on to drive a car to Chicago, in exchange for sharing the driving and the gas. He’s accompanied by Johnny Five, played by Garrett Hedlund, who rarely speaks, and Oscar Turner, a broken-down jazz musician essayed by the great John Goodman. Turner is as emotionally broken-down as is his hulking frame. He never misses a chance to spew sarcastic vitriol in Davis’ direction.
And then there’s the cat. I won’t tell you how he ends up with a cat in his circumstances, but will say there’s a yellow cat in Hollywood who deserves an Oscar nomination for “Best Supporting Feline.” He’s the most personable cat in a movie since Breakast at Tiffany's.
With allusions to a great journey, along with the renaissance of an almost-forgotten form of music, Inside Llewyn Davis owes a lot to the Coen Brothers O Brother Where Art Thou. And although it’s very difficult to narrow it down to a “top five” list, Inside Llewyn Davis, has joined my top five favorite Coen Brothers films, which includes Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller's Crossing, and No Country For Old Men.
And I’m not going to tell you how the opening and closing of the film intersect, but I will tell you that it proves the old adage of “what goes around, comes around.” As it does for many of us on our own journeys through life.
Although I don’t expect the film to do as well at the Oscars, it did hit the big time with the National Society of Film Critics awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Cinematographer.
The R-rated Inside Llewyn Davis is now singing its songs at the Mariemont Theatre, AMC Newport on the Levee, Regal Deerfield, and Showcase Springdale.