The Coen Brothers are one of the most beloved directing duos (possibly THE most beloved) in all the world, and it’s easy to see why. Both Joel and Ethan Coen have done their best to cultivate and maintain a pretty impressive resume of films that span genres, themes and circumstance and yet all rest comfortably in the flare of their stylistic dead-pan writing. They understand humor and how it incorporates itself comfortably into drama, and they know how to spin tales so bizarre they feel authentically human. Yes, they fail from time to time (and when they do it’s usually pretty awful) but they’ve earned to right to fail.
Their best is better than most.
Since their Oscar win back in 2007, the Coen’s have been dwelling comfortably in Oscar’s good graces, racking up nominations for their writing and their films and their actors and their directing and have pretty much become an Oscar staple, so it was easy to see why so many presumed ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ was going to be another big hit for them. It received unanimous praise at the festival circuit as well as upon its theatrical release, and it looked primed for Oscar acceptance.
And then it received a Sound Mixing nomination and NOTHING else.
What makes this all the more depressing is that this is possibly their finest film since ‘Fargo’!
While the rest of the world was devouring their every output, I was reluctantly holding off until they delivered something that felt tighter, stronger and more in the vein of what I expect from them. I really like ‘No Country for Old Men’, but to me that wasn’t a true Coen Brothers film. ‘True Grit’ had a stronger sense of their whit about it, but it still felt muffled under the guess of two beloved directors trying to test out their range. ‘A Serious Man’ felt like a return to their roots, their true form, and yet it was messy and incoherent and really needed some elaboration in parts.
‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is everything that ‘A Serious Man’ tried to be and more.
The film is kind of a non-story about a musician drifting through life, bouncing from couch to couch and alienating everyone he knows because he’s, well, not a very nice person. When the film opens, Llewis is in an smoky bar bellowing a folk song and our attention is instantly stolen and propelled into this journey of self-discovery that feels deeply enriched through the sounds and sights around us. Using music as a springboard for many other things, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a swell of celestial sounds that heightens the atmospheric presentation and delivers one of the Coen’s finest composite films.
To say this is ‘lesser Coen’ is a joke.
I love the way that the Coen Brothers present such deeply rooted life lessons without saccharine overtures, dealing out a film that feels uniquely human, if it were. The interactions between Llewyn and those around him spiral off into splinters of his own life, his own demons as it were, and present a universal truth about the struggle to create, to perform, to live and ultimately to conform. Llewyn’s journey feels authentic and gives us a reason to root for such an unsavory character.
With star performances throughout, this is an all-around gem of a film. Carey Mulligan tears apart each of her scenes with a sharp and biting presence that escalates with each passing scene, and John Goodman’s brief appearance adds an unexpected depth of mystery to the plot and the themes presented, but obviously this is Oscar Isaac’s film to carry, and boy does he ever! He encompasses Llewyn Davis’s every attribute, and his line delivery is laced with an ingrown sadness that permeates his actions and endears us to him, despite his repulsive attitude. This is a star performance if I ever saw one and it makes me so excited to see where he goes from here.
I give this a pretty easy A+, and this is easily one of my favorite films of the year and possibly my favorite Coen Brothers film outside of 'Fargo'. It is a remarkable little film and it is a shame that Oscar chose to ignore this one while embracing some of their lesser outputs over the past few years (yes, I know I'm in the minority about those films).