Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Inside Llewyn Davis"

The new, much-anticipated (by me, at least) film from Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a thing of great beauty.

Taking place in Greenwich Village in 1961, in a milieu which will be familiar with those who have read Bob Dylan’s peerless “Chronicles”, it is a character study, following a few days in the life of a folk singer, played impeccably by Oscar Isaac, as he struggles to cope with his tangled and unfortunate personal and professional lives. The structure is rambling and discursive, as is typical with the Coens, and the central character makes every effort to be dislikeable. Thus, moments of high drama are few, but when they occur they are subtly heart-breaking.

The music, supervised by T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford and given suitable room to breathe, is delightful; and the supporting performances from such reliable faces as John Goodman (a voluble but unwell jazz-singer) and F. Murray Abraham (the hard-as-nails impresario) are as impressive as might be expected. Carey Mulligan shines in the thankless role of a bitter former lover, and even Justin Timberlake is effective – especially during the film’s comic high point, the “Please Mr Kennedy” sequence. It looks great too, especially the smoky folk-club interiors.

References from the folk scene (Peter Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Arlo and Woody Guthrie) and classical literature are plentiful, but the central theme appears to be the close relationship between soul-searching artistry and profound commercial and inter-personal cynicism – something with which the brothers will be greatly familiar given their many years in the film business. Inevitably reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Sweet And Lowdown”, it’s yet another slow-burning classic.

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