So the Coen Brothers are finally back with yet another Oscar-nominated effort, Inside Llewyn Davis, starring the conveniently first-named Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.
The movie follows a fictional folk singer's journey to try and make his music relevant at a time when folk music was transitioning more towards commercial pop. Llewyn Davis is a bit of a loser, that's hard to deny, jumping from couch to couch, always crashing at family/friends/ex-girlfriends/strangers' apartments, not really working. At the same time, though, there's a purity and an honesty to his music you do respect and want to see be rewarded in the end. This is a much less caricatural Coen Brothers film than we're used to, none of it is over-the-top and, although Davis is a made-up dude, this still feels like it could easily be a true story. Much more so than Fargo, a film which actually claimed to be based on true events. You still get some memorable characters in there, though, like Stark Sands' wide-eyed soldier/folk singer and John Goodman's rude, insulting car passenger. It's a really good cast, a really good ensemble and everyone, even Mulligan and Timberlake, even the cats, does a solid job. The best thing about Inside Llewyn Davis is the fact it's not by-numbers at all, skilfully avoiding all the musical biopic clichés made all too familiar by the likes of Walk The Line and Ray (and then later mocked in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story). The hero's "quest" is packed with disappointment, the film doesn't bother giving him a rise and fall type of arc or a real love interest and, because this isn't a straight-up film about folk singer Dave Van Ronk, even if some of his life inspired the main character, Oscar Isaac doesn't have the pressure (or the prosthetics) to look like anyone specific.
This is the perfect biopic for those tired with biopics.
Of course, the film looks terrific, but it isn't over-stylised whatsoever. Its near colourless, sepia-ish tone almost making you feel like you're watching a black and white movie. There's a timeless quality to the film which makes you forget it's even the 60's and somehow takes you back to an even older time. In terms of what actually happens in the film... it's actually very little. This is a long way off from The Soggy Bottom Boys' quietly epic odyssey in O Brother, Where Art Thou? or even the web of worries surrounding good old Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man. Sure Llewyn Davis has his share of problems but they're fleeting, much like his entire existence and he mostly tends to run off from whatever issues he's facing. The more you think about the film, the more you appreciate Oscar Isaac's deadpan performance: here's a guy we don't see do all that much except singing, driving, sleeping and carrying cats and yet we feel like we know him. He's a hardly emotional introvert whose sense of humour and real feelings only come out in short, muted bursts you might be forgiven for missing once in a while. This makes Davis a thoroughly interesting character we (mostly) like but understand to also be flawed. When he does rub someone the wrong way, it's not exactly a big shock.
While this isn't one of those hit-you-in-the-face amazing Coen Brothers films, Inside Llewyn Davis is more like Burn After Reading or A Serious Man: it grows on you and stays with you. It's beautifully made from start to finish, the soundtrack is fantastic, the writing is sharp (if restrained) and the performances are subtle and spot-on.
It's just a really good, unpretentious little film.
Worth checking out.