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  Inside Llewyn Davis For Folk's Sake
Year: 2013
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Max Casella, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Jerry Grayson, Jeanine Serralles, Stark Sands, Alex Karpovsky, Helen Hong, Bradley Mott
Genre: Comedy, Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Greenwich Village in 1961, and the singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is performing at the Gaslight Club, a folk venue where he is a regular and, and has been since he was part of a duo. Now he is going solo he's finding staying in the business a lot tougher, partly because of the circumstances which saw him break up with his singing partner, and partly because the other man was so integral in crafting the harmonies with him that they could really have gone places as this form of music is currently gathering so much interest. Once he finishes his set, he is leaving the building to venture out into the cold New York City night when he is accosted by a man in the shadows: seems this chap doesn't like what Llewyn Davis said about his wife, and is prepared to resort to violence...

This film saw Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, two of the most celebrated filmmakers of their generation, take a look at the scene from which sprang one enduring megastar who changed the course of popular music, plus some guy who didn't quite make the grade, who happened to be our title character. By this point the Coens' mid-career crisis where they seemed to have gone off the rails with the shrill and unfunny The Ladykillers which led to a hiatus as they got their act sorted out was long gone, and the respect they almost lost was well and truly back with them once again, the script for the Gambit remake not anything anyone recalled very much, neither held against them.

Their recreation of the past, in this case the period before The Beatles shook up pop culture for good and nobody was entirely sure where to take music, was appropriate seeing as how the talents of the day were more backward-looking than forward-looking, that sense of seeking the gems of the past to find the way to the future, or simply to stay in the present, very palpable in the tunes they were creating, or more often than not recreating. This curious position the Coens adopted, where they were casting their eye back on a time when people were doing the same, could have pickled the drama in its own time loop, which ironically is precisely what begins to occur in the latter stages of the movie.

Watching this first time around it's almost difficult to pinpoint the exact moment we return to the beginning of Llewyn's tale as if seeing a record spinning, but in the meantime a work many sat through without cracking a smile was actually bringing up regular laughs thanks to a lead character whose personality does not invite an enormous amount of sympathy, therefore we feel better chuckling at the ill-fortune befalling him, missed opportunities and escaping, symbolic cats and all. Yet by the end, merely by observing him over this short space of time we can better judge him and whether we think he really deserved the luck he suffered, and Oscar Isaac, who with this film was suddenly a hot property leading him to the reboot of the Star Wars franchise, offered such a three-dimensional reading of a man who could have been a collection of music industry never-was clich├ęs that you could feel sorry for him from a position of vantage over what we knew was in store.

Isaac wasn't acting alone, and a keenly recruited cast revolved around him, some more famous than others though they were all there to add depth and colour (in a film that almost looked black and white) from Carey Mulligan's singer furious with Llewyn for getting her pregnant (his response is that it takes two to tango) to her husband Justin Timberlake requesting Llewyn's presence on a novelty record he is making (the ingenious and catchy Please Please Mr Kennedy) to the Mr Big F. Murray Abraham who asks to see an audition. Each of these encounters highlights the protagonist's bad times: he has to pay for the abortion, he eschews royalties that could have set him up and stopped him sleeping on others' sofas, he admits he cannot be part of a duo anymore and we know the personal reasons why. John Goodman's jazz musician damns even his ambitions and lifestyle in a pot calling the kettle black sequence, but mostly this delineated how the chaos of the present is clearer through the prism of hindsight, always 20/20, especially if you've been stuck in a rut of forced irrelevance.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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