One of the biggest outcries against this year’s set of Academy Award nominations coming from film fans was about none other than Inside Llewyn Davis’ small nomination tally (only two for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing). The Coen brothers certainly have a large and devoted following, but the amount of support that came out for Inside Llewyn Davis last Thursday morning was truly astounding. Did the film deserve this much attention? Maybe. Inside Llewyn Davis is far from a perfect film (and ultimately comes across as nowhere near the top of the Coen brothers’ filmography after one viewing), but its complex narrative will certainly be quite rewarding on future viewings. That being said there are too many drastic changes in narrative style within the film to ever truly become a great film.
Inside Llewyn Davis follows Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in Greenwich Village during the 1960s. Llewyn is a struggling folk artist that falls into a combination of bad luck and bad events of his own doing just as he is coming to a turning point in his life. The film is directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Coen brothers have a lot to say with this film. There are a lot of messages on what it takes to be an artist, why certain artists fail and what does success mean when it comes to art. These are all important and interesting subjects to investigate. However, the way in which the Coen brothers present these questions can be a bit problematic. Inside Llewyn Davis starts as a typically structured film and remains that way past the halfway mark of the film. Then suddenly (specifically at the point in which Llewyn takes a trip to Chicago) the film becomes an exercise in esoteric storytelling. The second half sure is rewarding and the first half is well made, but when added together it creates a messy film. Obviously, this is a deep and well-constructed film so repeat viewings are necessary to fully enjoy it (and be warned that I have only seen this film once so far), but no matter how many times you watch it, this jarring contrast in storytelling between beginning and end will still remain.
As always the Coen brothers get a great cast together. Oscar Isaac is a solid lead, and adapts his acting style to the subtle writing of the character very effectively. Unfortunately, no one has much screen time outside of Isaac, but all of the extended cameos and cameos are incredibly good. Some of the best include Carey Mulligan (who is probably the biggest supporting performer as the aggravated fiancé of Llewyn’s best friend), Justin Timberlake (who is pretty much playing himself but wonderfully so), F. Murray Abraham (who gets a killer and integral one-liner) and Adam Driver (who steals the show in his one musical performance).
Inside Llewyn Davis definitely feels like a Coen brothers film. Yet it is also one of their riskiest and, ultimately, flawed films. Still it is a film that deserves to be seen multiple times.