Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.insidellewyndavis.com/splash
Opening Day: 16 January 2014
Synopsis: Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from Academy Award-winners Joel and Ethan Coen, follows a week in the life of a young folk singer at a crossroads, struggling to make it in the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac)―guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter―is beset by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, some of them of his own making. Living at the mercy of both friends and strangers, scaring up what work he can find, Llewyn journeys from the baskethouses of the Village to an empty Chicago club―on a misbegotten odyssey to audition for a music mogul―and back again.
“What are you doing?” These were the four words our protagonist Llewyn Davis saw scribbled on a toilet wall somewhere past the mid point of this 105 minute film. And this scene gave an initial rude shock to this 33 year old writer. It suddenly dawned upon him how he, like Llweyn, is lost in this journey of life, meandering from one point to another – only to be reminded by four simple words on a dirty toilet wall.
The shock gradually turned into a somewhat melancholic realisation how Joel and Ethan Coen are spot on with their cinematic take on life – and how life will have no answers to the universe’s most seemingly simple questions.
You see, the protagonist of this film is a certain down and out folk singer whose musical partner has committed suicide. We follow the struggling artist as he navigates the Greenwich Villagefolk scene of 1961. This one week in his life may seem inconsequentially uneventful to some, but is there a larger life lesson embedded somewhere?
Written, directed and edited by the same folks who brought you classics like Fargo(1996) and The Big Lebowski (1998), their latest work may be their most mature and affecting yet. This writer isn’t that big a fan of No Country for Old Men (2007) and True Grit (2010), but Burn After Reading (2008) and A Serious Man (2009) are two films which he can’t shake off his mind. You have to watch these two brilliant works to understand how ingenious the duo is.
Here, their story is partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk. You may be unfamiliar with this music genre, but there is no need to put this film off as a bore fest. If you’re in the mood to reflect upon your journey in life thus far, put down whatever you have on hand and immerse yourself in Llewyn’s week long journey as he finds apartments to spend the nights, travels in the subway with an orange tabby cat, and takes a ride across the country to seek what seems like a better future.
The narrative is well paced, and although the conclusion may leave you in a “oh, that’s it?” state, take a moment to realise – isn’t that what life is about? The Coens do not provide clear answers, but that’s exactly what works here.
Oscar Isaac delivers with his portrayal of Llewyn Davis. The character may be a victim of his own choices, but you’d have to admit there is a Llweyn Davis in all of us. Joining the cast are the wonderful John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and Justin Timberlake, all of them giving pitch perfect performances without taking the focus away from the leading man.
And this reviewer guarantees that you’d fall in love with the movie soundtrack. Most of the folk songs performed in the film are all sung in full and were recorded ‘live’. From the reflective “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and the heartbreaking “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”, to the pleasant “Five Hundred Miles” to the wacky “Please Mr Kennedy”, this is one list of tunes that will linger in your head long after the credits roll.
It seems that this film will not get much love at the upcoming Oscars, but let it be known that this is a story about one’s journey to search for his identity. Whether or not there is an answer may not be the most crucial, as this writer found out as he continues his seemingly never ending exploration.
(Join Llewyn Davis on his journey as you reflect on how your life has turned out, and ponder what it has in store for you ahead)
Review by John Li