Overview: A folk musician faces struggles and hardship as he traverses the folk music scene of Greenwich Village in 1961 New York. CBS Films/StudioCanal. 2013. Rated R. 105 Minutes.
Inside the Character Study: With Llewyn Davis, writer/director’s Joel and Ethan Coen have created one of their deepest and most compelling characters in a catalogue of greats (Jeff Lebowski, Marge Gunderson, Barton Fink). The film only gives viewers a look into one week of his life, but in that short narrative stretch, we learn all we need.
As Llewyn travels back and forth across the city with his music career at a standstill, we receive glimpses of his faults, challenges, and transient lifestyle. Under the Coens’ close inspection, Llewyn doesn’t appear to be that great of a person. He has made mistakes in the past. He has placed some of his burden on others. Despite this, we identify something in him that we see in ourselves, something that even in ourselves we can’t quite decipher. We see Llewyn for who he is and we understand. We feel for him, and we will remember and think of him long past the credit roll.
The Role: Oscar Isaac portrays Llewyn with a pure authenticity. Isaac isn’t acting; he is this character. The role is tailor-made for Isaac and if he isn’t involved, then the film would have certainly lost its effectiveness. Isaac performs the many folk music numbers of the film with the special skills of the talented musician he is, and carries the weight of Llewyn’s troubles on his weary face. His performance ranks among the very best by an actor in a Coen brothers’ film.
The Music: Executive Music Producer T-Bone Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) organizes a beautiful array of folk music to sonically bring the era to life. The film features several music performances, most of them by Isaac, which all appear to be performed live. The soundtrack is an excellent listen worth a separate purchase, and viewers will be humming these songs weeks after having watched the movie.
Final Thoughts: Inside Llewyn Davis has notes of dark comedy and admirably presents its period setting (two of the Coens’ trademark strengths). The final product ranks among the brothers’ very best films. Llewyn Davis is an infinitely interesting and fascinating character, and Oscar Isaac gives a career-making performance.