Inside Llewyn Davis

Film, Drama
5 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(15user reviews)
Inside Llewyn Davis

You can size up this blacker-than-black, early 1960s time capsule from the writer-directors of ‘The Big Lebowski’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’ from all sorts of angles. Is it a sideways look at a music scene? A melancholic but extremely funny riff on what it was like to be a struggling folk singer in Manhattan in 1961 who didn’t go the way of Bob Dylan? A love letter to the absurdities of being an artist? You could even, at a stretch, call it a slippery, askew glance at Dylan himself. Bob’s here in spirit, and if you look hard enough, maybe even in person.

Whatever you call it, it’s special. As if the cover of 1963’s ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ album had come alive, with its muted colours and snowy, scrappy streets, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ offers a week in the life of a folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) and is loosely based on the memoir of Dave Van Ronk, a real musician on the scene at the time.

Davis is wound-up – almost washed-up – and his life is falling to pieces after some fleeting success in a pop duo. The only work he can get is as a session musician on a ropey single and some nights he performs at the dingy Gaslight in the Village. He has a fractious relationship with a spiky, angry ex-lover (Carey Mulligan, a singer, sweet as pie on stage, sour as lemons off it), and flits between friends’ sofas, showbiz offices and bars. He also takes a trip to Chicago, hitching a ride with a vile, bitter jazzman (John Goodman) and his near-silent young sidekick (Garrett Hedlund). This is a world of half-colours, whose palette barely ventures beyond greys, greens and browns. The times haven’t quite a-changed, and someone forgot to tell the ’60s of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ that they’re meant to be swinging.

Here are the Coens in the miniature, funny-weird-sombre mode of ‘A Serious Man’, although the love they show for the music nods to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ too. They gently mock the folk scene with all its beards and earnest talk, but mostly their attitude towards this time and place is as tender and warm as the film’s wintry weather is oppressive. Not that they don’t enjoy playing god with Davis, their selfish, self-regarding main character, redeemed only by his talent. When we see him being beaten up in an alleyway at the beginning and end of the film, we’re sorry, but he deserves it.

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is a sad, sometimes cruel, often hilarious counterfactual version of music history – with a wonderful soundtrack of folk standards (mostly sung by the actors) that lingers long in the memory.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Release date:
Friday January 24 2014
105 mins

Cast and crew

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Carey Mulligan
Garrett Hedlund
Justin Timberlake
John Goodman
Oscar Isaac
Adam Driver

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:3
  • 1 star:0
5 people listening

This film i found visually pleasing and the acting was good, however the storyline is a waste of time. The story starts with a man who is struggling to become an established musician, who at the end it is not resolved, nor is it worsened. There is no change in the storyline, and i know this is a reflection of what some new musicians go through, but we wouldn't sit through a film about our own mundane lives. The cat was the best bit of this storyline, and the poor cat was not even in the credits! Looking it up on the internet later, the people who made the film said the only reason they put the cat in was because the storyline was boring! If that is coming from the producers themelves, then what does that say about the film. The TimeOut rating of 5/5 is a bit exaggerated!

Beautifully shot, excellent acting, great music. Sadly, just a bit boring and no plot. Also, the main character is basically just a dick so by the end you couldn't give two monkeys about what happens to him.

A terrific film about that moment which arrives in almost every artist's life - the moment when they realise that they have to grow up and get a proper job. Oscar Isaac brings loads of attitude and wonderfully castable hair to the role of Llewyn Davis, a peripatetic musician who, despite a life spent almost entirely sleeping on couches, chasing cats (you'll see) and riding on trains, still manages to keep a perfectly tonsured beard. Like the protagonist in Knut Hamsun's "Hunger", Llewyn alienates almost everyone he meets, and refuses to compromise his artistic integrity, even though it means he's doomed to be perpetually cold, hungry and skint. Unlike Hamsun's hero, when he tries to sign aboard a ship at the end, he fails at even that. Highlights include old Coen favourite John Goodman as an odious, smack-addicted jazz musician, a spiky turn from Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake sporting a folkie beard and some excellent knitwear. Oh, and some really good music too. Great stuff.

Given time, I might yet award this film 5 stars, as it haunts me in unexpected ways. Llewyn is not so much an anti-hero as a non-hero, a sort of everyman, struggling to make a dream come true. His downbeat demeanour is almost like a coping mechanism : become too enthusiastic and too hopeful and the bitterness of disappointment is felt the more keenly. This appears to affect every aspect of his life and he does things to make people become disappointed in him, before he can be disappointed in them. He appears to have as little faith in himself as he does in others. This should make him totally unsympathetic, but, in fact I found him fascinating : rather fatalistic, but also naively hopeful. I wonder if there is an element of homage to the Elliot Gould of "The Long Goodbye" (kitty included!), as to me they are brothers under the skin. Like "Goodbye", I think that this is a film that wryly references another era, and likewise may come to be seen as one of the Coens' best. They play key moments in such understated ways, that they almost slip by unnoticed, such as the audition with the uncomfortable pause before he begins to play, and the uncomfortable pause as he awaits the verdict, or the song to his uncommunicative father left hanging unresolved. Oh, and as an old folkie, I loved the fact that the songs were played complete.

I only went to see this because Carey Mulligan was in it. Looking back I would have preferred to spend my eight quid on two pints of beer down the pub. The title character was wearing a beard which made me instantly dislike him, and most of the other characters were just plain bland. As for Timberlake he should stick to his music career, preferably as one half of the Buble Brothers, because he doesn't do it for me on film. In fact the best one in it was the cat. The film rarely progressed anywhere much like an oscilloscope with a flat line, and ended in the same way it began with Davis giving us another of his renditions. An ideal cue to gather your things and head for the door. The screen was 90% full on my visit so I expect the Coens will be kerchinging all the way to the bank.

I am unsure why a talented artist such as Justin Timberlake would associate himself with a movie as poor as this one. I thought that the central actor was quite good however the movie just didn't seem to go anywhere and left me perplexed. Perhaps I'm just not intelligent enough to appreciate it. If you like ginger cats and acoustic guitars like I do then it's probably better to buy one of each. However if you like ginger cats and acoustic guitars appearing in a movie then don't let me stop you from watching it.

I am totally bemused as to why the reviewer and another, who admits not to having seen the film, have both given this 5 stars. It is a desperately dull and depressing waste of two hours. Its about a man who seems to at first annoy and then repulse everyone he meets and after no more than half an hour of the film I felt no sympathy nor care for the man either. I am not sure how it is supposed to be hilariously funny as to me and the few in the screening just now there was barely a titter of laughter during the whole film. I left feeling bare indifference to the film. Perhaps for once the academy has got it right overlooking this for all of the big awards. A dull 2 stars.

Lots of atmosphere in this film, lots of struggle (some needless because the antihero has burned most of his bridges to other people), and a small, cold detour to Chicago. Folk music, yes, but oddly not as full of life as the playing and singing might be. And that's my objection. The main character, who has sacrificed all for his music, just seems to show up for his playing and singing. Carefully, but not whole-heartedly. The people I knew from that era would have been sitting down with others just for the joy of it, getting paid if possible, but making good music by themselves, with others, trading traditional songs like breathing air. So this film leaves out what makes a musical fashion run: enthusiasm, love for the thing itself. Thanatos is all over this version of the '60s, but Eros? Not so much. It's as though the Coen brothers can't imagine that bit.

I must be missing something, this film have rave reviews everywhere and award nominations, but I didn't think it was that good. It started off with introducing the characters and watching Llewyn going about his daily routine. There were a few hints of a major storyline coming up, but I eventually realised that there was not going to be a major storyline and this was it - just following Llewyn round for a week. At one point it reminded me of a less funny version of planes, trains and automobiles! The film was nicely put together and the acting was very good, especially by the cat. I would find it hard to describe to someone what the film was about and make it sound interesting - it's about a man trying to make it in the music industry that loses his friend's cat and doesn't appreciate his friends. I also keep reading that it is hilarious and a comedy - although there were a few humorous bits in it, I wouldn't describe it as a comedy. Worth a look if you go to the cinema regularly, but if it is a rare treat, then maybe pick something else first

Actually, I haven't seen the film yet! This is a review of Dave Calhoun's review. Considering that the movie poster, the trailer, and Time Out's contents page feature a ginger cat, Dave's review makes no mention whatsoever of who is surely the story's second most important character. It's not so much that the omission is a little mean-spirited, which it certainly is, but that Llewwyn's rescue of this lost cat reveals something about his personality. One piece of trivia: the feline, named Ulysses in the film, was actually played by several cats, because cats resist being trained like dogs, and quickly get bored. So there!

Inside Llewyn Davis has some excellent acting and interesting character development. The question that begs me to be asked is whether that is enough. The grays and dark tones of the movie come across clearly. Do the audience members need to see these shades to understand the difficulties of an artistic life? I would posit no. as a character study the movie succeeds at several levels. We see the main character an all the people he is tangentially related to clearly. the idea that the artistic life is cyclical is slammed home through the any good story a clear and happy ending can be an easy cop out.Joel and Ethan do not give in 2 that formulaic and trite type of film creation. With that in mind, the movie is not entirely satisfying. This is a movie to be enjoyed bye students and academics of film making. Despite its earthy unclean tones, you have the feeling that it is to clinically may well be that reflecting on the film several days afterward will leave a different impression but that has not proven true for me. It was well worth the money spent to see it, but I would not put this movie in the upper levels of the Coen pantheon.

a beautiful film about the heartbreak of trying to make your life your art, haunting movie, one of the Coen's best.

I can't share the reviewers enthusiasm for this film which left me rather bored and glad it was over. The performances are all very good and the visuals are as usual spot on as you'd expect from the Coens. However, there isn't any satisfaction in the story. There are about 4-5 potential storylines for the film to follow which are hinted at but none are given any time or resolution. Whilst I often enjoy films which leave things unresolved this one left me cold as I really didn't care about any of the characters (other than the cat!). Also as a side note be aware that about 15 minutes of this film are folk singing. Whilst the singers are all very good I'm someone who doesn't have an ear for this genre so this was rather wasted on me.