Director(s): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan
Although I had only witnessed the acting skills of Oscar Isaac in a supporting role in ‘Drive’ until now, that performance and the kind of films he is working in of late, are enough for me to form the opinion that I like him as an actor. We would probably be friends too, who knows? But until we meet, I’m just going to make my way through his collection of work. First stop, is the folky offering from the Coen brothers, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. I had heard great things, not least from our friends at InSession Film, who once again provided inspiration for my movie of choice. I was promised great music, spots of humour and some top acting displays, all of which were delivered, but something about this production troubled me.
What we have here then, is the story of a young folk singer, by the name of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). After the death of the other half of his double act, Llewyn struggles to make it as a recognised solo artist and relies on the help of friends (and often strangers) to book a gig, acquire a winter coat and find a place to sleep each night. Llewyn’s only talent is seemingly worthless in the world, and everywhere he goes he just seems to mess things up and antagonise people.
Oscar Isaac, thankfully, was brilliant in the lead role. He supplied sarcasm and entertainment mostly, but it is his ability to flip your perception of him that was most impressive. At times you find yourself agreeing with Carey Mulligan in thinking “you’re such an asshole”, and the next moment you’re feeling genuine sympathy for his down and out Llewyn. This performance is good, really good in fact, but I’m happy in the belief that this isn’t his best, which I’m looking forward to discovering. The supporting roles, in reality, are rather fleeting appearances. Justin Timberlake, John Goodman and Adam Driver pop up for a bit, and whilst Goodman and Driver provide some strange and humorous moments, there is very little substance or actual relevance to roles which showed promise. Carey Mulligan is the only support I can actually give any real credit to then, and she is admittedly quite brilliant on this showing. The chemistry between Mulligan and Isaac is a far cry from the relationship the pair share in ‘Drive’, this time Mulligan, as Jean, is strong-minded, very vocal about her issues and takes no shit from Isaac’s Llewyn. It really is a refreshing performance from Mulligan, who I’ve only ever seen playing the timid love interest, and leads me to believe that she will give a great performance in ‘Suffragette’.
The character of Llewyn Davis is a wonderfully crafted one, and as I mentioned, Oscar Issac brings so many dimensions to the role. It is this character development which drives the film along, and without Isaac, I can’t help but feel this would be a lot less interesting. The film lacked any clear direction to the narrative, and whilst I know so many people love this film, I just wasn’t invested in the story enough. I was just sat, waiting for something to happen, until the point when, with about 20 minutes to go, I realised this wasn’t the kind of film which you watch for excitement or any kind of event. This is a film which finds its sporadic success in the calm and quirks of the real world. Despite my lack of engagement with the plot, there is no denying that this is yet another beautifully shot production from the Coen Brothers, with a truly delightful soundtrack to match.
Unfortunately, I have to label this film a disappointment. I had been looking forward to watching this for a while, and whilst there were various aspects I enjoyed – the performance of Oscar Isaac being a highlight – I was left wanting more, and not in a good way. I thought that if I slept on it, and considered the film again in the morning, I might recall certain redeeming features. But the truth of the matter is, I had very little interest in the narrative, and no amount of impressive, artistic composition or peaceful melodies can compensate for that. Ultimately, I would say ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is good, but not great.