Since a colleague of mine wrote an official review for the film on my site, film-addict.com, I get to come here and dish my take on the film. There will be no rating, info or trailer. Just the plot and my take on a new film. A Dose of Buffa movie special if you will. My review of Inside Llewyn Davis.
QUICK SETUP-The film takes you through a week in the life of troubled folk singer Llewyn Davis in Greenwich Village and across the states as he attempts to make it big or at least hold onto what he holds sacred. A guitar and a sad song. Directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Oscar Issac. This film carries Academy Award talk but is it really worth it? Read on and find out.
MY TAKE-Listen up, the reason to see this film is Oscar Isaac and his amazing performance as Llewyn, a man torn apart by loss and a lack of confidence from the powers that be that decide on the music that gets boosted out into the mainstream. Issac does all of his own singing, and doesn’t hide behind that ability alone. He crawls inside the body of this character and lives in it for a couple hours. This is one of those classic disappearing acts. Part of the execution comes from the unknown status that still manages to follow Issac around the film world. He has shared small roles in films like 10 Years, Drive and The Bourne Legacy but this ladies and gentlemen is his coming out party. It’s a performance that is worthy of…wait for it…an Oscar nomination.
This isn’t an easy character to play, and I am not talking about the ability to sit in a chair on a stage and pour your heart through a folky tale. Isaac transcends what is usually expected of an actor in a leading role with singing involved. You become to know him as this character and his character follows you through a movie that has a few problems and isn’t Oscar worthy itself. The biggest problem in the man’s life happens to be himself and his urgency to become somebody that doesn’t resemble a fleck of the person he once was.
Originally part of a duo that was cut short by tragedy, Llewyn struggles to get ahead, finds himself in constant trouble and carve a place for himself. His manager feels so bad for him that he offers his own coat for Davis in the freezing coat and the singer refuses. It’s almost like he is still performing but doing it while dead inside. He drags a boat full of misery to each show. It’s a tough act to play and Issac nails it.
That said, the Coen’s always find ways to make their entire film ultimately problematic for me. I haven’t loved one of their films since Fargo or Miller’s Crossing. Yes, I was one of the critics who didn’t adore True Grit or No Country for Old Men and only found O’ Brother Where Art Thou? occasionally humorous. They write wonderful characters and dialogue that feels real but the way they wrap up their stories and the little nuances they add to the films never feels right. The storytelling structure of this film has a little hitch to it that in my opinion wasn’t needed. The story could have been told straight and it wasn’t and you can decide for yourself it was alright.
The supporting cast is stacked well but not as good as some make them out to be. John Goodman’s crabby jazz guy is funny for a few minutes but comes off as a caricature. Goodman is a pro but here I was annoyed by his character. The lovers of his performance don’t need to worry because it will be nominated for an Oscar. it’s the exact kind of scenery chewing role that they love once a year. Garrett Hedlund and Justin Timberlake are capable supporting actors but are barely seen or heard from. Carey Mulligan is effective with brutally blunt dialogue but is lost for half the film. I wanted more of her story with Davis and I wasn’t pleased with her demotion in the second half of the film. A mother type to Llewyn that may have slept with the guy and may be carrying his child, Mulligan’s authoritative and dakrly funny performance was brilliant.
The Coen’s direction and writing haven’t properly synced together in a film for me in a long time. They either do one very well or falter somewhere. I can never leave their film completely raving. Miller’s Crossing had suspense, comedy, drama, romance and a flair that couldn’t be taught. Same for Fargo, a dark comedic thriller with unforgettable performances with a punctuation at the end. Those films had teeth. This film has potential but doesn’t sizzle in the end. Whether it is said or not, that is always the idea for an Oscar caliber film. Thrill me or get out of my head.
Inside Llewyn Davis has a great soundtrack and a fantastic star making performance from Isaac but it left me feeling like I saw an incomplete film. That may have been the Coen’s idea of a great movie, but it didn’t end up being mine. I felt like something was missing and think they added an extra scene at the end just so they could pat themselves on the back. For me, it doesn’t work and leaves a gaping hole in the center of a story that had potential.
The songs, as mentioned above, are killer. Marcus Mumford(From Mumford and Sons) worked on the film and Mulligan and Timberlake perform songs as well. The film could have been a broken hearted folk musical and maybe been better. Hearing Isaac sing “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and a solo version of Bob Dylan’s “Fare Thee Well(Dink’s Song) cuts right into the heart of what this song wanted to be about. The two songs bookend the film and while they add a flavor most films crave, the overall finish of this film is lacking.
Inside Llewyn Davis is worth seeing for Isaac’s award worthy performance and the music but is denied greatness by the uneven and insufficient direction from the Coens.
*For more movie news, reviews and sophisticated take on the world of cinema, head over to my site, film-addict.com. I hope you enjoyed this Dose of Buffa special movie review.
Bonus Material-Here is Isaac singing “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me”.