INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
Every year one movie's soundtrack earns a place amongst the best albums of the year. The Coen brothers are no strangers to providing hyped up additions to their cinematic pieces (see O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its bestselling soundtrack) and Inside Llewyn Davis ranks right up there with the best. A beautifully styled film with stellar performances, Davis is the type of drama that only comes every once in a while.
Set front and center in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, Inside Llewyn Davis follows a struggling folksinger as he battles his inner demons and his friends around him. Always the victim of some type of pain (physical, emotional, or both), Llewyn Davis (played to star-making results by Oscar Isaac) is running out of chances. He sleeps on the couches of anyone he can coerce. He hitchhikes from town to town. He's made a name for himself at small music clubs, but the momentum has seemed to dry up. It doesn't matter which avenue he's traveling down, he always seems to screw it up somehow. This is what makes his character human. I can't remember ever hating a movie's hero so much, while also rooting for him the entire time.
While Isaac deserves any and all accolades he receives for his vulnerable performance, the supporting players earn their own, as well. John Goodman stands out as a wealthy cad who spars with Davis while traveling. Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake play a married couple and friends to Davis. Timberlake's Jim has found success and tries to help Davis out. Mulligan's Jean as a love/hate relationship with Davis and may or may not be pregnant with his child. There's enough material with these three characters to draw all types of story arcs, but the Coens never overuse anything and never take the story to soap opera lengths. It's about Davis' inner turmoil, not anyone else's.
The music is on a whole different level. Produced by T. Bone Burnett, the soundtrack is a mix of folk standards and spotlight-worthy new songs, mostly performed by the film's amazing cast. Mulligan's real-life husband, Mac Mumford of Mumford & Sons fame, shows up a couple of times to great results. While Llewyn Davis and the obstacles he faces are the most important piece of this puzzle, the music ties it all together.
The Coens have spent their careers telling great stories with great, memorable characters. Fargo. No Country for Old Men. True Grit. Each of these, while their quality could be debated, show great performances and great stories through an interesting lens. Inside Llewyn Davis does the same, with even better results. Beautiful cinematography. Beautiful sounds. Pretty much every facet of this film works.
Runtime: 104 minutes