Inside Llewyn Davis
Movie Review #736
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Produced by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Scott Rudin for Mike Ross Productions (uncredited) and Scott Rudin Productions (uncredited), presented by CBS Films and StudioCanal, in association with ACE. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, John Goodman, and Garrett Hedlund. Cameo: F. Murray Abraham. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2013. Distributed by CBS Films in limited release on December 6, 2013; and in wide release on January 10, 2014. Also released in France on November 6, 2013; and in the UK on January 24, 2014. Rated R: language including some sexual references. Runs 104 minutes.
When “Inside Llewyn Davis” ended, I was willing to forgive it. Now I was bored to hell, back, and there again by the movie, but I thought, maybe, it was so dull because this was my first time watching an in-flight movie. I was willing to forgive it on the basis that this was exactly why movies should never be shown on screen the size of index cards. But a few hours later, I turned on “The Wolf of Wall Street” on the in-flight entertainment system. Just as when I saw it in the theater, an hour of the three-hour movie flew by like ten minutes. It almost angered me to contrast this scenario with my earlier encounter with “Inside Llewyn Davis”: a hundred-minute movie that slothed out as if it were twice that length.
Joel and Ethan Coen–the brothers who, as with any film in their oeuvre, wrote, produced, edited, and directed–have no problem with repeating history. “No Country for Old Men” was certainly reminiscent of “Blood Simple.”, even “Fargo”. Arguably, that’s their magnum opus. Why they suddenly fear to retrace their best steps is beyond me. “Inside Llewyn Davis” could have been set up much like “The Big Lebowski”, albeit with a completely different character in the center, and played out similarly as a series of misadventures. Instead, the misadventures are all shoved in the first ten minute. In the opening scenes alone, we learn that Llewyn Davis is struggling to find work in the music business, sheltering a neighbor’s cat that tends to run away, helping a woman who hates him to get abortion before her boyfriend discovers she’s pregnant, dealing with the fact that she might be pregnant might be his child, and oh god what else is there. “The Big Lebowski”, 15 years before the fact, succeeded from giving a quick, fleeting focus to each of the Dude’s concerns, as if to brush them all off. Whereas in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, each bit is dragged out over the course of the film as if every single thing that happens is terribly important. That tightly wound writing makes the movie endless.
The one thing the script does have to offer is common among all Coen films. It’s the humor that keeps our attention for at least the first thirty to forty-five minutes. (No, it doesn’t last.) Fortunately, the aesthetic rest of the film is beautiful. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. This is a somewhat uncommon but clearly applaud able case in which it’s not the angles that the camera delivers that matter. It’s the lighting, and to be clear, every ray, beam, stream, and flood of light captivates the moment, be it in an apartment, an office, or on the stage. On the stage are the musicians Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake, who are both spectacular in their recording of the soundtrack (which, like the biopic-ish movie, is a convincing cover of music out of the Greenwich folk scene). I’ll mention specifically Isaac, though, for his performance as the leading wanderer, which is pretty remarkable. That’s something you’ve probably heard before, maybe witnessed. I find that witnessing once, however, was enough. While Isaac stands out as remarkable in the movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis” seems, ultimately, like not much more than a forced escapade about a guy, his cat, his guitar, and his woman.