Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Sony Pictures DVD – library (1:44)
(Just a short review of this one, although there’s so much more to say, perhaps in a later post.)
There are casual Coen brothers fans and there are the folks who know every shot in every film and can tell you the connections between seemingly insignificant moments from one film and how they relate to scenes from another film. The casual fans may walk away from Inside Llewyn Davis slightly disappointed, hoping for something similar to what the brothers have done before, either in comedic insanity (Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading), noirish thrills (Blood Simple, The Man Who Wasn’t There), historic or postmodern law-and-order tales (True Grit and No Country for Old Men, respectively). The diehards will no doubt embrace Inside Llewyn Davis, even though it just might explore some previously unexplored territory.
In many ways, Inside Llewyn Davis is a quiet little film, in the way that only the Coen brothers can make a quiet little film. Oscar Isaac (above left) plays the title character, a folk singer trying to make it just before the folk music scene really starts catching on in the early 60s. Davis (whose character is loosely based on folk singer Dave Van Ronk) is incredibly talented (and Isaac is doing his own singing here), but abrasive, rude, and pretty much a jerk, burning bridges and making more enemies than friends.
There’s so much to soak up and explore in this film that I don’t want to tell you any more about it other than this: watch it. Although I watched the film on a library DVD, I recently bought the Criterion Blu-ray, which is loaded with extras including a 43-minute documentary on the film, a conversation between the Coen brothers and Guillermo del Toro, and much more. The Coens are two of a small list of filmmakers who can take a slice of Americana and give us an accurate sense of the time, place, attitude, and the (what seems now) inevitable changes that were about to unwind, all in the context of one character’s life. Not only that, but the Coens make us feel – even if we weren’t there when it happened – that this is not just a part of who we are collectively, but also individually and on several levels. I don’t know how they do it. This is – believe it or not – the first Coen brothers entry in the Criterion Collection. Let’s hope it’s not the last.