‘God bless the Coen brothers,’ shouted an elderly man in the row in front of me during the previews of forthcoming attractions in a mid-town Manhattan Cineplex. It’s an agreeable sentiment, even if the movie that the trailer was for, Hail, Ceasar!, was a dud. But the Coens deserve our blessing; their comedies can be a little hit and miss, but they’d provides fresh and startling dramas, thrillers, plus this small but perfect little movie about art and music.
Davis, played in a breakthrough performance by Oscar Isaac, is something of a fixture of the New York folk scene. An early scene sees him disrupting a performance and getting attacked in an alleyway. We then see him waking up in an apartment, and we assume that he’s recovering from his hang-over. But actually, via a brilliant sleight of hand, we’ve moving back a week, and we’re watching the beginning of the painful journey that brought the singer/songwriter to such a point of despair.
Davis’s inadvertently exits his resting place with a cat, which proves to be his downfall. His attempts to find and replace it are unsuccessful, as are his attempts to pay his dues and re-join the Merchant Marines. His music career is going nowhere, and even those who help him out, like Adam Driver’s Al Cody, have a stash of remaindered records of his own. With Bob Dylan about the change the Greenwich Village scene forever, Davis takes a series of wrong turns and finds a number of closed doors, from F Murray Abraham’s executive to John Goodman’s addled musician, Roland Turner.
‘This will interest you…’ Turner says to Davis, before launching into a detailed story about his bowel movements. But why should the story of Llewyn Davis interest us at all? Perhaps because Isaac plays him so winningly, perhaps because everyone knows what rejection feels like, and perhaps because the Coen’s observe his world with such care and candour.
Perhaps it doesn’t scan as easily as most Oscar-season entries, or lacks a clear issue to mine, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a great, timeless film about art and artists. I went along to see the Coens’ festival chat about their own unique brand of cinema for a good two hours and learned nothing whatsoever about their motives. But perhaps that’s because their films speak so eloquently for themselves.