Sunday, December 22, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis is the story in the week of a life of a struggling folk singer who is talented but also his own worst enemy as he deals with his own failures as well as his lack of success. The film is an exploration into the Greenwich folk music scene of the early 1960s where one man deals with his own gift and his faults as a person as the character is played by Oscar Isaac. Also starring Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, and John Goodman. Inside Llewyn Davis is an extraordinary film from the Coen Brothers.

The film is essentially about a man who is undoubtedly talented but is a wandering fuck-up who manages to make a mess out of himself and the people he’s with. Notably as he is this musician who hasn’t been successful while still grieving over the death of his singing partner as he’s trying to make whatever money he can get and catch a break. Yet, Llewyn Davis is practically his own worst enemy as he is quite critical of others in the Greenwich folk music scene that is happening while he also learns that one of his fellow musicians in Jean (Carey Mulligan) is pregnant as he might be the father. It’s a film that takes place in the span of a week where it’s essentially a character study about this man trying to find his place in the world only to face all sorts of tribulation.

The film’s screenplay by the Coen Brothers takes it time to showcase the journey that Llewyn Davis takes in the span of an entire week where the first act is about Davis’ struggle in Greenwich where he crashes in various places while dealing with Jean’s news as her husband Jim (Justin Timberlake) asks him to do a session for a song Jim has made. While Llewyn has some respect for Jim, there is some jealousy over the fact that Jim is successful despite the fact that he doesn’t have Llewyn’s gifts as a real artist. After meeting another folk musician that Jim and Jean had befriend in Troy (Stark Sands), the film would have this second act of Llewyn traveling to Chicago with a stray cat he had found. The cat that Llewyn encounters is a symbol of what Llewyn could do if he doesn’t screw up yet there’s a side of him that is definitely full of fear where Llewyn isn’t sure if he can take care of a cat let alone a child since Jean could be carrying his child.

The film’s second act also has Llewyn encountering a strange music impresario named Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who accompany him to Chicago for this audition with a renowned manager named Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham). The trip itself would be strange where it would add to Llewyn’s own doubts about himself where he would eventually arrive into Chicago with a lot of emotional baggage that he’s gained in the past few days. The third act would be about his return to New York City where it would play into the aftermath of his Chicago trip and the uncertainty of what to do next as it plays into Llewyn’s own fallacies as a man and as a musician.

The direction of the Coen Brothers is truly exquisite in not just the way they recreate the 1960s Greenwich folk music scene but also set it around a man who feels more and more out of place with the scene he was once a part of. Much of the direction have the Coens use a lot of wide and medium shots where it’s largely shot in New York City to play into a world that is constantly changing and thriving. There’s some close-ups and very interesting moments that the Coens create such as a scene of Llewyn trying to catch this stray cat called Ulysses whose owners are these music aficionados who often invite him to crash at their place. Yet, the scenes involving the cat as well as the opening sequence of Llewyn playing at this smoky, dimly-lit venue where it showcases where he’s coming from and the emotional baggage that he’s carrying.

The film does also become a road film of sorts in the second act where the images of the car driving on the road are quite entrancing as it showcases that uncertainty of Llewyn as he’s a man with no home or no direction home. The film in some ways is a folk song being played on screen as the Coens also shoot a few scenes in Chicago where it’s cold and Llewyn faces one bad situation after another before his audition. The compositions become much more stark in not just its imagery but also in the way it explores Llewyn’s own faults and the uncertainty he faces. Overall, the Coen Brothers create a very fascinating and engaging film about a man’s faults and the uncertainty that he carries about who he is and what he does.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel does brilliant work with the film‘s very lush and colorful cinematography that is filled with exotic colors for some of the film‘s interior scenes that includes the small venue that Llewyn and other folk musicians play at as well as the richness for some of the film‘s daytime and nighttime exterior scenes. Under the Roderick Jaynes alias, the Coen Brothers do excellent work in the editing where they use a lot of stylish cuts from its fade-outs and transitions to play into the drama that unfolds throughout the film. Production designer Jess Gonchor, along with set decorator Susan Bode Tyson and art director Deborah Jensen, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the folk venue that the characters play at to the very thin hallways in the apartments the characters live in.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely based on the clothes of the early 60s from the flamboyant look of Roland Turner to the straight-laced clothes that Jean and Jim wear. Visual effects supervisor Alex Lemke does terrific work with some of the minimal visual effects created such as the scenes of snow appearing on the nighttime road scenes. Sound editor Skip Lievsay does superb work with the film‘s sound from the atmosphere of the folk clubs as well as some of the calmer moments of the scenes on the road. Music archivist T-Bone Burnett does an outstanding work in compiling the film’s soundtrack as many of the actors in the film do their own singing as the songs chosen for the film do help tell the story. Notably as the music features contributions from Marcus Mumford and Chris Elridge in many of the songs played which also includes a rarity from Bob Dylan.

The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is great for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable appearances from Adam Driver as a folk musician who aids Llewyn in a session for Jim, Jeanine Serralles as Llewyn’s older sister Joy, Max Casella as a folk club owner, Ethan Phillips and Robin Barlett as the music aficionados who let Llewyn crash at their place as they’re also Ulysses’ owner, Alex Karpovsky and Helen Hong as party guests that Llewyn meets at the aficionados’ home, Stark Sands as Jim and Jean’s friend Troy who is a good musician that Llewyn is annoyed by, and F. Murray Abraham in an excellent performance as the revered talent manager Bud Grossman who watches Llewyn plays as he decides his fate. Garrett Hedlund is terrific as Turner’s valet Johnny Five as he is very quiet throughout the film but there is something about him that adds to the strangeness of Llewyn’s encounter with Turner.

John Goodman is fantastic as the eccentric and flamboyant music impresario Roland Turner as a man who walks with two canes while musing on all sorts of things as his presence would leave Llewyn even more troubled. Justin Timberlake is amazing as Jim Berkey as this very talented and successful folk musician who is an all-around nice that just wants to help Llewyn out any way he can. Carey Mulligan is brilliant as Jean Berkey as a folk singer who despises Llewyn as she also tries to help while telling him that she’s pregnant with what might be their child which she has a hard time dealing with. Finally, there’s Oscar Isaac in an incredible performance as the titular character who is talented but unable to take his talents forward as he carries a lot of emotional baggage and a cat. It’s a performance that is eerie to watch where there’s aspects about him which are endearing but he’s also a guy that continuously fucks up every chance he has giving Isaac a career-defining performance.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a remarkable film from Joel and Ethan Coen that features a marvelous performance from Oscar Isaac. The film is not just an intriguing look into the failures and faults of a man but also the 1960s folk music scene in which he was a part of and how he feels out of place in that world. Especially where it’s a film that showcases what a struggling musician has to go through to make it in an ever-changing world. In the end, Inside Llewyn Davis is a phenomenal film from the Coen Brothers.

Coen Brothers Films: Blood Simple - Raising Arizona - Miller's Crossing - Barton Fink - The Hudsucker Proxy - Fargo - The Big Lebowski - O Brother, Where Art Thou? - The Man Who Wasn't There - Intolerable Cruelty - The Ladykillers - Paris Je T'aime-Tulieres -To Each His Own Cinema-World Cinema - No Country for Old Men - Burn After Reading - A Serious Man - True Grit - Hail, Caesar! - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Auteurs #9: The Coen Brothers: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

Somehow I knew you'd LOVE this film, I know a lot of cinephiles worship the Coens. I simply don't *get* their style and though I appreciate this film, I don't necessarily love it. Isaac was brilliant though and that cat was quite the scene stealer :)

thevoid99 said...

It's a very different film from some of their earlier work as it's not as quirky but still intriguing to explore a guy who is a talented fuck-up.