Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest from the Coen brothers, will undoubtedly garner a few Oscar nods including for star Oscar Isaac. Production design, art direction and costume design are also likely nominees for their stark recreations of the early 1960s New York folk scene.
The music is good as is the acting, direction and cinematography. Does it amount anything? Not really but who’s complaining?
There’s a recurring bit about a cat that’s mildly amusing until it reaches for something more profound near the end. Likewise, an opening scene that at first seems like unmotivated violence also has a nice payoff. It takes a long while to discover why Llewyn is so remote and unlikable. By that point we’ve already accepted that our hero is not a very nice guy.
Llewyn gets his name from the heritage of his Scottish seafaring father. He walks around Greenwich Village with a huge chip on his shoulder partly because of that inherited “authenticity.” In an aside, he mentions that his mother is Italian (Maybe that’s why he somewhat resembles Al Pacino in Serpico ).
By the early 1960s an underground folk revival had been around long enough to get stale but was just about to break commercially on TV shows like Hootenanny. Isaac’s musical performances are in earnest. It’s a style easily satirized but the Coens, with musical director T. Bone Burnett, wisely play it straight.
Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake are terrific and nearly unrecognizable as folk music couple, Jim and Jean. Their version of the Peter, Paul and Mary favorite “500 Miles” is an emotional highpoint. Jim and Jean were a real life folk duo whose career lasted through the folk rock era of the later 1960s. Their fictional counterparts Mulligan and Timberlake offer the most compelling moments of the movie.