HOLLYWOOD—“Inside Llewyn Davis” is not a film bursting with action or suspense. It is not loaded with contrived Hollywood melodrama, nor glowing with optimism and inspirational moments of courage and determination. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a film that feels more true to life. As with most Coen Brothers’ films, there are moments you might find dull, and there are scenes where you might ask yourself, “What exactly is the point of all this?” This is the subtle touch that makes this work feel so real, but it will also serve to frustrate many viewers.
The movie follows folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac), as he navigates through the New York City music scene for a week in the winter of ’61 looking for success and a place to sleep each night. The Coen Brothers draw most of their inspiration from the style of music that they so heavily feature. Like the best folk songs, the art and beauty of “Inside Llewyn Davis” comes from the details and the intimacy felt between the singer and audience. This intimacy is established immediately with the film’s opening shot: an extreme close-up of our title character’s face as he sings the first song. Throughout the film, this closeness is never lost or diminished. The screenplay and the excellent direction of the film constantly keep us close to his thoughts without ever having to resort to voice-over or clunky, expository dialogue.
Thanks to the excellent performance of Oscar Isaac, we know just enough about Llewyn Davis to understand him and care about his story, but we are never forced to like him. Llewyn is as lost and flawed as the characters that are portrayed within his genre of music, and though we can’t help, but empathize with him, we don’t always like how he acts.
The details of “Inside Llewyn Davis” craft a world that subtly supports the feeling and mood of the film. The attention to visual detail is incredible. The color palette of the film is very noticeable. Awash with browns, greys, and dull blues, and lit almost entirely with stark white lighting, you can truly feel the winter closing in about you. Re-occurring imagery makes new scenes feel familiar, as cats, narrow corridors, and subway shots remind the viewers of the repetition and redundancy of the protagonist’s life.
The film is a quiet one, and rightfully so, but it is not monotonous. The most silent or uneventful scenes are immediately followed by a tiny climax. Small revelations, moments of emotional poignancy, and somewhat startling contrast cuts break up the film in a way that is organic and compelling. Of course, like life, the film is not without its laughs. The Coen Brothers’ signature dry, witty humor is peppered throughout the dialogue, and constantly breathes life and energy into the production.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” is like a good folk song: the power is in the feeling that comes with it; the personal closeness felt between the viewer and the character; the minutia that builds on itself to establish beauty and depth within the relatively simple framework of the film. Not everyone will like it, but those that do will walk out of the theater moved and still find their minds wandering back to the entirely missable moments that in fact make the film so exceptional.