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Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

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Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen
Picture courtesy of TVTropes.org

The Coen Brothers are masters of making even the smallest of their characters incredibly detailed, but the central characters of their films have always been the ones that stick in the minds of their viewers. Over the years, the duo have provided us with many very good films, such as The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man, and Barton Fink, but how does their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, compare to their previous works?

Inside Llewyn Davis Poster

Inside Llewyn Davis tells the story of a folk singer living in New York, and is based on the life of famous folk music musician Dave Van Ronk, who also released an album named Inside Dave Ronk. The Coen Brothers are film-makers who typically get deep into the minds of their characters while writing them, giving us a glimpse into their lives and as an extension of that, a glimpse into the lives they’ve created for themselves. In the past, the two have done this through jobless people, Hollywood screenwriters and religious people, and they utilize this method to its full extent in Inside Llewyn Davis. Towards the end of the film we become very familiar with the character of Llewyn Davis – how he sleeps, how he deals with responsibility, with his emotions and disappointment. We see his negative personality aspects, as well as his redeeming ones, and this is ultimately what makes the film such a success.

 

Overall, Inside Llewyn Davis is an extremely well-made and emotionally charged film with stellar performances from Oscar Isaac, John Goodman and Carey Mulligan, and could easily be compared in quality to the duo’s best. Inside Llewyn Davis is a cut above the average comedy-drama – the script is sharp, witty, and often quite fast-paced, but the true meaning of the film runs consistently beneath The Coen Brother’s staple offbeat brand of humour.  

The pitfalls which Llewyn Davis falls into as he tries to make a successful career for himself are often self-created, but these only force us to sympathise with the character. When we see the difficulties he faces as a struggling folk musician, the odds being against him, we can almost forgive his reckless actions (of which there are many). This is due to the fact that, at various instances throughout the film, we are offered very small glimpses of Davis’s true selfless nature and these are the moments in which the character truly grows on us. For instance, the scene in which Davis dons his guitar and plays his ailing father’s favourite song to him in the retirement home is one of the most emotional in the film.

Inside Llewyn DavisHowever, the detailed character study isn’t the only way in which The Coen Brothers have succeeded in making a very watchable film out of Inside Llewyn Davis. The two have captured the essence of the 1960s extremely well. This authenticity comes from various different aspects of the film, though mainly through the cinematography (the dark, moody atmosphere of The Gaslight Café and the New York streets), and the carefully considered soundtrack which contains songs by prolific folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk himself.
 

Frazer MacDonald is an aspiring screenwriter/actor, and has recently developed an interest in Journalism. He is studying English and Creative Writing at MMU, and is an avid film fan.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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