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Review: Inside Llewyn Davis, Ipswich Film Theatre, Ipswich, February 21!

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Review: Inside Llewyn Davis, Ipswich Film Theatre, Ipswich, February 21!

Inside Llewyn Davis premiered on January 24 and is the latest film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

The film follows a week in the life of fictitious folk singer, Llewyn Davis, as he stumbles through the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, focusing mainly on the real-life club, The Gaslight Café.

The film stars Oscar Isaacs in his first major lead role and Carey Mulligan who also featured alongside Isaacs in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The film also sees Justin Timberlake as a straight edged singer and John Goodman as an offensive jazz musician.

This film is a far departure from much of the Coen Brothers’ recent work, with the musical element of the story most closely linked to their musical retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey in O Brother Where Art Thou. The narrative however is dissimilar to all their work save A Serious Man.

The character of Llewyn Davis is an unlikeable man who seems afloat in a sea of his own self pity and self-righteous pretension. The film follows him as he is dealing with the death of his musical partner, who John Goodman unceremoniously points out jumped off the “wrong bridge”, and the realisation the he is failing as a solo artist.

Despite Llewyn Davis’s unlovable nature, the audience is seduced into sympathising with him as he trudges from one cold failure to the next and is berated by one character after another, a job which Carey Mulligan does incredibly well. Oscar Isaacs does a brilliant job of portraying a man who is realising his dreams were just dreams and he is doomed to (in his own words) “just… exist”.

The film, as you might expect, is filled with the Coen’s characteristically-snappy and witty dialogue, and although the story waxes and wanes at points you are never far from a pithy one liner or sharp back and forth between characters.

If anything comes close to overshadowing Isaacs’ performance it could be the music. Isaacs gives several hauntingly-beautiful renditions of traditional folk songs such as Hang Me Oh Hang Me and Fare thee Well and the choice of the Coen Brothers to record all of the songs live pays off incredibly well, giving the film an earthy resonance, which is in tune with the inhospitably-cold setting of 60s New York during the winter – this likely would have been amiss if the music had been dubbed over in post-production. But don’t fret if you aren’t a fan of Bob Dylan and folk music in general; the film is not bogged down by its musical subject matter and there is plenty there for those with little to no interest in folk music.

What the film is actually trying to say is far more difficult to put a finger on. It is, on one hand, simply the story of a man dealing with grief and failure, however the film seems to be on the brink of wanting to make a larger point. This point comes to the surface in Llewyn’s conflict with Carey Mulligan’s character who he labels a “careerist” and it seems that throughout the film Llewyn is constantly defending his artistic integrity, even if that is slowly ebbing away, while others around him are willing to sell out to survive.

Unsurprisingly, Inside Llewyn Davis picked up two Oscar nominations and was nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes. It is showing at the Ipswich Film Theatre from the February 21.


Words: Jacob Lees

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