Inside Llewyn Davis (15)

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The ViewNewcastle Review

Review byMatthew Turner24/01/2014

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 105 mins

Brilliantly directed, superbly written and featuring both a wonderful soundtrack and a terrific lead performance from Oscar Isaac, this is a bittersweet, melancholy-tinged drama from the Coen Brothers that plays like a folk music version of Barton Fink.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis is set in New York in 1961 and stars Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a down-on-his-luck folk musician whose career has stalled following the recent death of his partner. Talented but lacking (or perhaps wilfully rejecting) commercial instincts, Llewyn bounces around from couch to couch and ends up having to carry around a cat belonging to his friends the Gorfeins (Ethan Phillips and Robin Bartlett as Mitch and Lillian) after he accidentally locks it out of their flat when he leaves.

Things go from bad to worse when Llewyn visits husband-and-wife folk duo friends Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) and Jean angrily informs him that she might be pregnant with his child and that she wants him to come up with the cash for an abortion. After alienating both the Gorfeins and Jean, Llewyn hitches a ride to Chicago to attend an audition, but the trip doesn't go as planned and he's soon back in Manhattan, bouncing between sofas again and considering giving it all up and rejoining the Merchant Marines.

The Good
Isaac delivers a terrific performance as Llewyn, managing to maintain our sympathy even though he is, not to put to fine a point on it, a bit of a shit. Still, we correctly sense that there's more to Llewyn than meets the eye – his musical talent is evidence of a soul, despite his seeming disdain for everyone around him and the way he treats his friends. (It's even possible to read the seemingly elliptical ending of the film as a tiny sliver of hope, since a handful of scenes repeat with one key difference).

The supporting cast are equally good, particularly Mulligan, Adam Driver (as fellow musician Al Cody), Stark Sands (as soldier-slash-musician Troy Nelson) and Coens regular John Goodman in an extended cameo as Roland Turner, a drug-addicted jazz man who's a fellow passenger on Llewyn's Chicago trip. However, the real supporting honours belong to the Gorfeins' ginger cat, who steals pretty much every scene, most notably during a gorgeously photographed trip on the subway (if they gave Oscars for cat wrangling, Inside Llewyn Davis would be a shoo-in).

The Great
The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of Bruno Delbonnel's washed-out cinematography, that emphasises both the consistent freezing cold and the bleakness surrounding Llewyn himself. In addition, the superbly written script is packed full of wonderful scenes (Isaac, Timberlake and Driver performing Please Mr Kennedy is a definite highlight), lines, running jokes and telling character details and there's a fabulous soundtrack of folk standards sung by the actors themselves.

Worth seeing?
Brilliantly directed, superbly written and impeccably acted, Inside Llewyn Davis is, quite simply, one of the best films of the year. Unmissable.

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Content updated: 27/01/2014 18:45

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