DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
Glossing over the Coen's filmography confirms my immediate sentiment after finishing Inside Llewyn Davis. I have never been moved by one of their films. That is not what they do. They craft tales that shy the beaten path, fill them with semi-human characters and embrace the style they are working in wholeheartedly.
Inside Llewyn Davis has all the hallmarks of a Coen film. With one trump up its sleeve causing me to allow this film to grip me, shake me and leave me the same way it leaves its protagonist. With a wry smile and an empty heart. That trump is Llewyn Davis and his portayer, Oscar Isaac, who gives one of the best performances of that year.
With the characteristic, meticulous attention to detail the Coens immerse us in 60's New York and focus on the folk scene. It is an easy world to step into as it is presented to us with so much conviction and beauty. This is perhaps one of the Coens' best looking films, shot with a deep colour palette, emulating the coldness of the season and the predicament of their protagonist to perfection.
Story wise it is a pretty straightforward affair. We follow a struggling musician in his quest for finding a his purpose in life. Nothing groundbreaking there. But as so often is the case it is the storyteller that makes the story and the Coens are masters at doing just that. Davis is one of their best anti-heroes. He is distant, a freeloader, egotistic and a brilliant musician. He couch surfs his way through the city, bumming cigarettes whenever he gets the chance and always trying to peddle his music, trying to make a living from his passion. And no matter how hard he tries to be an asshole, I still felt myself rooting for him at every turn. It's the music. Whenever he picks up a guitar and starts singing one of his songs, you see him baring his soul. But the Coens are cruel masters. Every time he is allowed to speak through his music, he is more often than not yanked back to reality, taking us with him. I love that shared frustration between an audience and a character, it linked me to him, helped me appreciate his plight and in this particular case, his music even more.
This being a Coen film it is natural to start looking for a layer beyond the story. In this case it is hidden in plain sight. Llewyn is the cat. The cat is Ullyses. He is lost, adrift with many ports of call but none to call his home. I loved the nautical themes embedded in the story, his sailor father, his decision to actually disembark and drift even farther and some of the songs, they're all there, emphasizing that we are watching a man's journey, or at least an essential part of it.
Another thing that the Coens do brilliantly is structure their story like the Ouroboros. This is much like that snake eating its own tail, or tale if you will. The ending is the beginning is the ending. That gives that last wry smile Davis gives us, mumbling Au Revoir, all the more weight. He is stuck in his own cycle and unless he gives in to life's compromises he'll stay there forever, cold, lonely and adrift.
It's too soon to tell, but this could very well turn out to be my favorite film by the brothers. Time will tell, but for now I'll stick that unbelievable soundtrack on repeat and drift off.