Review: Inside LLewlyn Davis

20:46, Feb 21 2014
 Inside LLewlyn Davis
COEN CLASSIC: Inside LLewlyn Davis

Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) has every reason to be singing the blues. Once part of a successful folk duo, he's now struggling to make ends meet as a solo artist.

"People need time to get to know you," his manager assures him, while only able to offer him a winter coat rather than any payment. Couch surfing amongst his various friends and acquaintances, Llewyn can't even look after a cat properly.

"You're like King Midas's idiot brother - everything you touch turns to shit," rages fellow folk singer Jean (Carey Mulligan) after he puts potentially a large wrinkle in her future plans. With time and money running out, Llewyn may have to give up his musical dream and rejoin the merchant marines, but even that may be far more difficult than he thought.

While lacking the narrative drive of recent Coen Brothers westerns True Grit and No Country for Old Men, this look into New York's folk music scene scene circa 1961 is no less a compelling watch.

Fans of the Coens will be delighted that the usual mix of crazy characters, quotable dialogue, wild hair and a put-upon protagonist is all present and correct, while more casual cinephiles will lap up the moody, evocative visuals (cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, responsible for the look of French smash Amelie, here delivers some powerful point of view shots and a sense of space and place to rival the Coen's best like The Man Who Wasn't There and Fargo), addictive earworms (the memorable toe-tapping soundtrack is T-Bone Burnett's best work since O Brother Where Art Thou) and a terrific cast that features a host of Coen newbies like the soulful Isaac (The Nativity), spikey Mulligan (Gatsby), sardonic F Murray Abraham (Amadeus) and a surprisingly square Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits), as well as regular fixture John Goodman (Barton Fink).

Special mention must also go to Ulysses the cat (actually played by three different red mackerel tabbies) who threatens to steal the entire movie while barrelling down fire escapes, breaking free in subway cars and running down city streets.

Like folk music itself, this won't be everyone's cup of tea (it's a slow-burning story, Llewyn is a frustrating figure of constant "failure" and the spectre of Christopher Guest's folk-mockumentary A Mighty Wind looms over it), but persevere and you'll be rewarded with an absorbing tale where you'll find yourself caring about the fate of everyone involved and still hearing those infernally catchy tunes for weeks afterward.