Rod Sedgwick’s review published on Letterboxd:
''If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.''
Well haven't we all been waiting a long time for the brothers Coen to inject their brand of special into the atmosphere again, and with the stage set for something as intimate as the music on show, I can only say that Inside Llewyn Davis was worth the 3 year wait.
It has been said that The Coen's love to torture their protagonists (which they jokingly stated themselves about A Serious Man), but that is not the case here with Oscar Isaac's titular figure. Here is a man that is haunted by death; of his partner (who has committed suicide in the recent past) and of his hope for a music career (Bob Dylan takes the stage after Davis' performance of 'Fare Thee Well' at the gaslight to play 'Farewell' in the circuitous bookends of the film - steering the singer/songwriter model into radical new territory) and with this looming cloud hanging over him, he tortures himself, destroys every single chance he has to become someone, because he cannot do it without his lost partner. Just look at the pain that wells up when he asked to 'sing for his supper' at the Gorfeins - No one can fill the void of Mikey, and isn't he constantly reminded of this fact. Even when he appears in front to Grossman in Chicago to perform, he chooses something deeply personal and uncommercial, staying true to himself, and is told that he should get a partner. Evidence of this self imposed torture occurs through out, even when given the opportunity to earn royalties on a catchy pop tune called 'Please Mr. Kennedy', he is happier just to take the one-off payment.
The tortured artist performance by Oscar Isaac bears so much weight, and boy does he have presence, even when you feel you should hate him, you simply cannot. He comes to life when he performs and bears his soul with his lyrical stories that are more akin to the blues, yet when he is not singing he treats it like work. There are numerous references to work and people doing mundane jobs within, as their are also references to Llewyn being Ulysses the cat (a phone conversation has someone say ''Llewyn is the cat''), which could be a playful way of the Coen's pointing out the metaphors, but it's easy to see that the cat has purpose within (the one that he hits in the car is almost an epiphany, or the extended gaze at a poster of The Incredible journey outside a movie theatre). The big performance from John Goodman and the muted performance from his driver played by Garrett Hedlund also seem to serve a greater purpose than just comedy, and that is to show the cynical jazzman with a career that Llewyn does not want to be, and neither does he want to be the idealistic young actor ready to sacrifice himself at the drop of a hat.
Everything in this film is essay material, even if we looked at the lyrics of the songs and their importance to Davis' mood and temperament - Oh and good God the music is just marvellous, possibly one of the greatest soundtracks for any film. The narrative is the Coen's at their most spare and just the structure of the beginning and ending alone will take more than one viewing to parse out. Carey Mulligan is a part of the film only a short while, but she is so amazing in creating a centre for Llewyn and showing that he is not devoid of emotion or affection. The most beautiful allegorical theme to ponder on of course is about Joel and Ethan themselves as creative partners, who could not thrive without the other, it would all become just 'work' (as referenced earlier in my review) and they might just end up torturing themselves like Llewyn Davis in the film.
This is a cold palette with momentary warm hues courtesy of some washed out cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel, who makes the film feel like a deadened limbo - an apt visual statement for the films themes about living in the shadow of death and not being able to surface from it. I could write and write and write, but alas I shall just wait til my next impending viewing of this new Coen Bros. Masterpiece.