Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis ★★★★½

"Portrait of an Artist as a Sad Sack"

Coens can do this fatalistic tragicomedy schtick - where a particularly unfortunate schlep gets repeatedly bamboozled in inventively cruel ways - in their sleep. But in this film there is something more engaging at work. Llewyn Davis is imbued with a nobility of sorts, a truculent yet sympathetic figure, who is no mere pawn in a mischievous cosmic plot. The casting of Oscar Isaac is a key masterstroke. Isaac has a naturally stand-offish presence that, nonetheless, brings a staunch dignity to his characters. Both of these qualities are essential to Llewyn Davis - a basically decent, if, as all performers are, self-absorbed guy with stubborn creative principles that are admirable, however much they damage his life.

The other masterstroke is making Isaac sing the songs himself so we can make an actual judgment on relative merits of Llewyn Davis as musician/singer. Isaac's committed effort to make his non-professional singing work mirrors Llewyn Davis' dogged pursuit of validation, which is a brilliant parallel.

Coen's direction is as great here as it's ever been - they've reached masterful precision in their attention to mis-en-scene detail. Plus that special Coens flair for casting has only gotten better with time - "Llewyn Davis" is populated with excellent and very fun (Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham and Goodman chewing up scenery something fierce) choices. Had they avoided putting the final film print through so much obvious digital post-processing, I'd consider it their best since "No Country"

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