Just imagine it: sitting in a smokey room in some downtown bar in 1960’s America listening to some real folk music. It may not be the most action-packed, nor controversial film of the year, but what the Coen brothers have produced is a beautifully made, and authentic, character study of a down and out young folk singer, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac).
Davis is your talented, yet stubborn, folk singer looking to catch a break as a solo artist after the death of his singing partner. Living couch to couch with little money and little luck, the Coen’s have orchestrated a very raw, moody portrayal of a man struggling to make a living in a competitive world, but have done so with a touch of both humour, and as per usual, class.
The film’s dark atmosphere only adds to the moodiness that surrounds Llewyn. Harsh realities of both the world, and the music business, hit the folk singer firmly in the chops on numerous occasions, as he clearly struggles to deal with the death of his collaborator, which makes for both intriguing, and on occasions uncomfortable, viewing. But the movies wit, through the sharp-tongued nature of Jean (Carey Mulligan), who plays Llewyn’s ‘friend’ and fellow-musician, along with John Goodman’s cameo as the opinionated Roland Turner, brings a lighter edge to otherwise serious proceedings.
Isaac’s performance is, however, key to the films success. On the face of it Llewyn is a bit of a douchebag – a point he is reminded of throughout the film by relatives, friends, and even his bank manager. He is moody, temperamental, and holds a wickedly jealous side. Despite his flaws, you can not help but sympathise with the character, which is testemant to the power of the 33-year-old’s stripped-back portrayal of the struggling folk singer.
In what is the Coen’s best work since No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis goes deep into the 1960’s music scene, coming out all guns blazing in an understated, but powerful way. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and its lack of broad appeal, a long with its less showful nature, has probably been its downfall in regards to Oscar nods. But the film stands its own, resulting in a powerful, yet rather tragic, showing of a man simply trying to make it in life.