Inside Llewyn Davis Might Be the Best Coen Brothers Movie Yet

<I>Inside Llewyn Davis</I> Might Be the Best Coen Brothers Movie Yet

Folk music is supposed to be the music of the people. Yet at the heart of Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis, set in New York in the winter of 1961, is a folksinger with no feeling for people. Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac, is a broke, rumpled moocher who drifts from couch to couch until there are no couches left — either by drinking too much and getting rude or simply by opening his mouth to let his hostile thoughts flow out, he has a talent for alienating every friend he's got. He's also a gifted singer, the remaining half of a semi-successful duo that has broken apart with no hope of reuniting, but it's clear he's not going to be a hitmaker — the material he chooses leans toward traditional weepers about mourning dead lovers or ballads about young boys heading off to sea, music carried to America from the dark soul of the British Isles. If Llewyn had a bell, he most definitely would not ring it in the morning; he'd be too hungover, or at least just too pissed off at the world.

Llewyn is in many ways a dreadful human being, but you can't turn away from him. The Coens seem to love him, too: Inside Llewyn Davis is the warmest picture they've ever made, and though it will never attract the cultlike adoration of The Big Lebowski and Fargo, or earn the serious-lit-adaptation accolades of No Country for Old Men, it's possibly their best. Taking place over just a few days, it evokes a fleeting time, place, and vibe: The Village folk scene of the early 1960s, anchored around a few cavelike, no-frills clubs, was changed forever once Bob Dylan set foot on it — he was too explosive for it to contain him. But before that, in the heyday of Dave Van Ronk, a scruffy folk luminary who never became a true star, it was much more intimate. That pre-Dylan world, the setting for Inside Llewyn Davis, may be very small, but Llewyn is lost in it.

In the opening scene, Llewyn gets beaten up — for reasons that aren't clear until the end — in the alley behind one of the little clubs he's just played. Shortly thereafter, he loses a cat belonging to the friends who have generously put him up for a night, a lovely marmalade fellow with a question mark for a tail. And when he shows up at the doorstep of another friend, fellow folk singer Jean (Carey Mulligan), we get an even better sense of his ability to alienate people. She's furious, a thundercloud in a turtleneck and shaggy blunt bangs. As it turns out, even though she's the live-in (and singing) partner of another friend (played, wonderfully, by a super-earnest Justin Timberlake), she and Llewyn have a history. You can see why: Llewyn is devastatingly handsome in a Sephardic way, the kind of damaged goods some women can't help falling for. But Jean need only lay eyes on him before cutting him dead — she takes just like a woman, yes she does.

Critics' Pick Critics' Pick

Location Info

Map

AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13‎

1998 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: West 60s

Regal Union Square Stadium 14

850 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Union Square

Details

Inside Llewyn Davis
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
CBS Films
Opens December 6, AMC Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square



Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

Related Stories

More About

Llewyn has already screwed everything up. Why stop now? Though Inside Llewyn Davis is essentially a New York movie, in a desperate effort to grab the attention of a hotshot record producer (F. Murray Abraham in a beatnik goatee), Llewyn takes a road trip to Chicago, hitching a ride with a surly big-daddy jazz cat (John Goodman) and his too-cool-for-school minder (Garret Hedlund). But Llewyn's real odyssey takes place deep inside: As Isaac plays him, he's a punky lost lamb in need of saving, though no one can get close enough to do it; his eyes say "come closer" even as he's kicking away mightily. He's impatient with stupidity, both real and perceived. But he has a capacity for tenderness, too. It's certainly there in his singing — Isaac does his own, in a voice that's dusky and sad but also luminous as the moon. He's a character in mourning, both for another person and for lost parts of himself. The latter are harder to get over.

Inside Llewyn Davis gets everything softly, quietly right. T-Bone Burnett supervised the music, and it never sounds as if it's been lifted out of some dusty vault — it's alive. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel gives us a half-tarnished, half-burnished vision of early 1960s New York, just dreamy enough, rather than laden with false nostalgia. The movie features one of the finest marmalade-cat performances since The Long Goodbye. (Technically, we're talking about several cats, but let's look the other way for the sake of movie magic.) And although the Coens are consummate craftsmen, they don't always show the lightness of touch or the depth of feeling they do here. Llewyn is suffering, and though we can't forsake him, it's hard not to laugh at his terrible misadventures. He's behaving badly in a typically New York kind of way, fumbling his way through his stress. Intentionally or otherwise, the Coens might be channeling the Hal Ashby of The Landlord, or Next Stop, Greenwich Village–era Paul Mazursky. Whatever they're doing, it's remarkable — cockeyed humanism at its best.

Credit: CBS Films

Cutline: Bringing It All Back Home: Oscar Isaac and friend

 
My Voice Nation Help
91739 comments
Jeremy Saunders
Jeremy Saunders

Finally saw Inside Llewyn Davis. Landed up #9 on my impeccable, impregnable 'Rank The Coens!' list, between Barton Fink and True Grit.

Berin Turan
Berin Turan

Inside llewyn davis explained me :) Last scene: au revoir and a big smile :)

WGMUNowPlaying
WGMUNowPlaying

Now playing on WGMU: "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)" by Inside Llewyn Davis OST

Media Plus
Media Plus

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Inside Llewyn Davis - infoo portal - ghidul tau de informare zilnica,... fb.me/1ouEfq89Y

infoo portal
infoo portal

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Inside Llewyn Davis - infoo portal - ghidul tau de informare zilnica,... fb.me/7Anmv5fu6

Brian Olson
Brian Olson

The best thing about Begin Again is that it makes me want to watch Lost in Translation, Once and Inside Llewyn Davis all in one sitting.

Lilly K Scapolone
Lilly K Scapolone

Ya leí de que trata Inside Llewyn Davis y como sea la quiero ver.

Moisé
Moisé

Acabo de ver "Inside Llewyn Davis" por segunda vez.

Alfonso Huerta
Alfonso Huerta

@AivpoA Yo llevo 6 meses esperando ver Inside Llewyn Davis en el cine, ya hasta la vi en internet, pero no me rindo en poder verla en grande

Octavia
Octavia

I forgot how soul-crushingly sad "Inside Llewyn Davis" is. It's like a study in true sadness.

burger
burger

I forgot how soul-crushingly sad "Inside Llewyn Davis" is. It's like a study in true sadness.

emma
emma

inside llewyn davis may be one of my favourite movies forever.. it's funny yet depressingly melancholy. but the soundtrack is just stunning.

Sandy Parker
Sandy Parker

With INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, it's like the Coen Brothers said let's put the ANTI back in anti-hero.

Sandy Parker
Sandy Parker

So was casting of F Murray Abraham a clue to the point of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS? Especially when you consider the guy singing at the end...

dgerm
dgerm

@filmspotting and if I were picking 6-10: Atonement, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Master, Cache, Inglorious Basterds

Jenna Harmon
Jenna Harmon

There really is nothing better than the "Inside Llewyn Davis" soundtrack.

Ben Anderson
Ben Anderson

I could watch Inside Llewyn Davis every day and still enjoy it

Chris Dymond
Chris Dymond

Could blue look any better on film than it does in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS? ...Maybe Kieslowski.

Erikka Yancy
Erikka Yancy

Is tonight the night that I finally watch The Butler or Inside Llewyn Davis? Let's be honest I'm re-watching 20 Feet from Stardom.

karma
karma

Al final me decanto por Inside Llewyn Davis que le tenía ganas de hace tiempo.

Alice Charman
Alice Charman

Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack is AMAZING!!!!!

Kader Yun Kaneia
Kader Yun Kaneia

@KoiQuireBV >> protagonizó una peli de los Coen que se llama Inside Llewyn Davis. A mí me gustó bastante. ^^}

Kader Yun Kaneia
Kader Yun Kaneia

{ Por si os interesa (?), esos son Carey Mulligan y Oscar Isaac, que protagonizan 'Inside Llewyn Davis', una peli de los Coen mu chula.}

Adam J
Adam J

Inside Llewyn Davis: 105 minutes of meandering nothingness rendered significant by critics, purely on the grounds of being a Coen bros film.

ana flávia
ana flávia

Cara, ontem dormi no final de inside llewyn davis, vou assistir de novo

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...