Joel Coen recently professed that his latest production alongside his brother Ethan, Inside Llewyn Davis, is a film devoid of any real plot or direction. In many cases, such a statement would be off-putting and uninviting, but when it’s the Coen brothers, you know that it simply doesn’t matter – and that proves to be the case. Not only is the distinct lack of structure acceptable in this instance, but it’s actually imperative, as the way the audience are led around in circles completely encapsulates our titular character, as we are treated to a mere slice in the life of fledging folk star, Llewyn Davis.
Set across an eventful week in Greenwich Village, during the bitter winter of 1961, our protagonist (Oscar Isaac) navigates his way around the folk music scene, playing tedious venues and live shows to gain some recognition. Hopping from one friend’s sofa to the next, and struggling financially, he embarks on a road trip to Chicago in the vain hope of being signed to a record deal – hitching a ride with Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) and Roland Turner (John Goodman), with his guitar in tow and friends’ cat by his side. Back at home he leaves behind the pregnant Jean (Carey Mulligan) – though question marks remain as to whether the father is Llewyn, or her partner, Jim (Justin Timberlake). Though everything in Llewyn Davis’ life seems to be crashing down all at once, you can’t help but get the impression that the next week will just be exactly the same.
Equipped with that same, droll Coen brothers’ wit that so often colours their productions, there’s a sadness to this tale, and one that’s somewhat difficult to express in words. Not only is the melodic soundtrack complimenting the piece and assisting to the melancholy that prevails, but the way our lead aimlessly weaves between friends and adversaries, without direction or hope, represents that potential failure in all of us, as he’s unfortunate and simply makes the wrong decisions. As such, he’s naturally a flawed character and at times he can be somewhat unforgiving, yet he’s so humanised and relatable that we are able to always find the good in him. Similarly to A Serious Man, things generally seem to happen to Llewyn Davis, yet it’s portrayed with minimum contrivance.
The soundtrack is terrific and such a huge part of this film – in a similar vein to how the Coens’ implemented music in O Brother Where Art Thou?. The results are somewhat similar too, as Inside Llewyn Davis is breathtaking cinema of the very highest order, and can consider itself to have been robbed at the forthcoming Academy Awards, gaining such little recognition. In some ways, however it seems only fitting, as it’s just the sort of rotten luck Llewyn Davis would be on the receiving end of himself.