Monday, December 9, 2013

Movie with Abe: Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Released December 4, 2013

The Coen brothers make very distinctive films, the best among them being “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “A Serious Man,” all Oscar Best Picture nominees. They’re known for placing quirky, funny people in serious, often deadly situations, and for making films work on both dramatic and comedic levels. Their first film in three years offers up as its protagonist a homeless folk singer who bounces around from couch to couch in 1960s New York City trying to make a living and burning plenty of bridges along the way. In some ways, it’s a recognizable project of these two veteran directors, but it doesn’t possess the same creativity and energy that many of their past works have.

The Coen brothers have their actors they like, and while it’s nice to see familiar faces, it’s also positive to see lesser known actors thrust into the spotlight. In the supporting cast of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is John Goodman, a Coen regular, and he’s joined by a diverse slate of actors. “Drive” couple Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan are present, as are music movie stars Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund, and familiar TV faces like Adam Driver (“Girls”), Ethan Phillips (“Star Trek: Voyager”), and Max Casella (“The Sopranos”). Unlike some of their previous films, however, there is no one actor who is used to tremendous effect, though both Goodman and Mulligan get a few strong scenes each.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” opens with its main character (Isaac) singing his heart out to an initially unseen audience. It’s clear that Llewyn exhibits such a passion for his work that feels almost effortless, and that energy doesn’t apply to the way he lives his life outside of his music. Llewyn regularly offends those he stays with only to later return in need of a loan and a place to stay with only a minor apology as his peace offering. In following his miserable exploits, the film finds some sparks and manages to ignite, but those moments are unconnected are don’t go very far. When Llewyn is performing, it serves as a reminder that his story is worth telling, even if it doesn’t come to life frequently. There is no hidden layer of the film that serves as its foreboding dramatic backbone, and this may just be the most straightforward story the Coen brothers have ever told. Given what they’ve produced before and the premise here, this seems like an awfully unfulfilling and disappointing effort.


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