Inside Llewyn Davis
Oscaar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake star in the Coens' wonderful 60s folk movie
The Coen brothers return with the 16th film of their remarkable careers, once again vaulting the exceedingly high bar they’ve set for themselves. Set in the smoky dive bars of 1961 Greenwich Village, Inside Llewyn Davis is (very) loosely based on the life of folk musician Dave Van Ronk. Like their chain-gang musical O Brother, Where Art Thou?, fiction and fact collide, as real life figures – or approximations of them – flit in and out.
Here, Llewyn Davis (the wonderful Oscar Isaac) is a singer-songwriter on the slide. His musical partner committed suicide and he’s got a box full of unsold albums; barely scratching out a living, he’s couch-surfing, existing on the good will of others. Meanwhile, Jean (Carey Mulligan), the pretty folkie singer he’s been seeing behind her partner Jim’s (Justin Timberlake) back, has just announced she’s pregnant.
This is just the first few scenes in what is a masterly Coen screenplay – up there with A Serious Man and The Man Who Wasn’t There for its portrayal of male neuroses and failure. For the hardcore fans, there are some blissful examples of the Coens’ typically surreal humour, led by John Goodman’s cameo as an ageing hepcat. As for those who think these brothers are cold filmmakers, the only thing chilly here is the wintry New York setting, evocatively shot by Bruno Delbonnel.
Best of all is Isaac, who broke through as Prince John in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood but here delivers the performance of his career – not least strumming a series of folk ballads in full with a soulfulness any serious musician might envy. Plaudits too should go to T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford for their behind-the-scenes work on musical arrangement. But, in the end, the credit really goes to Joel and Ethan Coen for being wonderfully on song again.
General release from Fri 24 Jan.