Out of tune: Inside Llewyn Davis review

Inside Llewyn Davis. Image: Studio Canal.
Inside Llewyn Davis. Image: Studio Canal.
Inside Llewyn Davis. Image: Studio Canal.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Dir. Joel & Ethan Coen

Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen brothers’ latest contribution to cinema, which won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, the story follows Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) for a week in 1961 in New York’s Greenwich Village. This is the early folk scene and Llewyn is living the bohemian lifestyle. He seems to be a nomad, relying on friends for shelter and supporting himself by performing at The Gaslight Cafe. He has lost his singing partner and finds himself lost in life, reevaluating whether he is on the right path.

The film’s concept is a charming one that an independent-minded audience should easily go along with. Both its Oscar nominated cinematography and the wonderful soundtrack featuring a beautiful cover of ‘Fare Thee Well’ by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford are particular highlights. It also has some wonderful quirks, such as the orange cat that randomly accompanies Llewyn for most of the film.

Inside Llewyn Davis starts out on an interesting note but unfortunately the story fails to develop properly and inevitably goes nowhere. It is also hard to sympathise with Llewyn – an irresponsible, selfish man who portrays himself as a victim of circumstance. Perhaps the Coen brothers’ intention was to make him unlikeable, but it is difficult to watch him for over 90 minutes in which he fails to show emotion or really engage with anybody, leaving every conflict unresolved. Davis is the most present character but one finds oneself more interested in the stories of the minor characters.

Sometimes a film with a thin plot can hide behind powerful performances but in that respect the film also falls short. Oscar Isaac is convincing in his portrayal of a lost and confused singer, but he fails to evoke the viewer’s sympathy. Other supporting roles included Justin Timberlake, who once again was just playing himself, and Carey Mulligan. I have enjoyed Mulligan’s previous work since her emergence in An Education. This time, however, she fails to bring her signature charm to the role, though she is not helped by the fact that her character Jane, Llewyn’s love interest, is highly underdeveloped. The best supporting performance was from John Goodman, his appearance however was short and lacked purpose within the plot.

I really wanted to like Inside Llewyn Davis but ultimately it left me unmoved. It is aesthetically pleasing and may entertain those merely looking for beautiful cinematography and a good soundtrack. Coen brothers fans might also enjoy their trademark quirks in the film. However if you are looking for strong performances and an engaging storyline the film does not deliver.


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