Oscar Isaac, other actors shine in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’Posted on December 4, 2013 | by Joshua Handler
Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and, as of this week, recipient of the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Feature, Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” is a haunting film of immense power that will hook audiences from its opening moments.
The film begins with a shot of actor Oscar Isaac singing a melancholy song in one nearly uninterrupted take. Through Isaac’s singing and face, the audience can see the sorrow, failure and passion that form his character, Llewyn Davis. This scene sets the tone for an emotional journey into the heart of the 1960s folk music culture in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
Llewyn, a bitter, unlikable folk musician, tries to turn his career around. But despite his best efforts, his own arrogance and the cruel world stop him at every turn.
The performances from the entire cast are top-notch, including John Goodman’s wackiest role in years, but this is a showcase for Isaac, who finally earns his first major leading role after supporting turns in “Drive” and “Sucker Punch.”
With his angelic voice and wide emotional range, Isaac gives one of the best performances of the year. Although Llewyn is an irresponsible, self-important person who makes only a few good decisions throughout the film, Isaac makes him sympathetic. He demonstrates that Llewyn cares about his life and those around him, but he is simply incapable of showing it.
Isaac is especially brilliant in the scenes where he sings, which were recorded with live vocals. While the pain is evident in the dramatic sequences, the full force of his work is unleashed in the musical moments. Isaac shows an emotional vulnerability rarely displayed in film, driving much of the story.
“Llewyn” elegantly marries music, cinematography, acting and dialogue to form a thematically universal, but aesthetically New York film. With cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who worked on “Across the Universe,” the Coen brothers recreate a romantic and hazy Greenwich Village with a harsh world surrounding it.
This is a film, like all Coen brothers works, that shows the unforgiving nature of the world. However, the inherent sadness of “Llewyn” doesn’t make for a disheartening experience. Because “Llewyn” is laced with humor, even in some of the most melancholic scenes, the film is enjoyable, not depressing. Watching “Llewyn” is an oddly cathartic experience.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a rich, funny and haunting film that will resonate with those who lived when the film was set, Coen brothers fans and music lovers. This is one of the few films of the year that you will immediately be eager to rewatch.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 3 print edition. Joshua Handler is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.