The Coen Brothers latest film 'Inside Llewyn Davis saw a mere two nominations (for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing) at the recent Academy Awards announcements, despite a wealth of critical acclaim. Based on the semi-fictional struggle of a folk singer-songwriter, someone far cleverer than I noted the irony of such a film being itself ignored by the establishment. Perhaps it did indeed hit its mark, as intended.
Speaking of Oscars, the titular Llewyn Davis is impeccably played by Oscar Isaac, who may have earned an Oscar nomination in a lesser year. We follow a mere week in his life, a draining existence as he performs regularly at a small venue in the 60s New York folk scene amid an almost complete lack of album sales, while jumping from couch to couch.
Davis' life is full of conflict - including an amusing ongoing battle with a tabby cat, his terse exchanges with Carey Mulligan's Jean, and a delirious duel with a junkie jazz musician (John Goodman). Llewyn's day to day anguish is reflected in his own personal tragedies, dripfed by the Coens' adept screenplay but regardless, Llewyn's brashness frequently contributes to his jeopardy. And yet, his obvious musical talent and consequent lack of recognition make this a continually nuanced (or frustrating?) affair.
The music of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' deserves special note. 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' composer T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford to wonderfully recreate the sound of the era, with Dave Van Ronk a particular inspiration for both the Coens and the songwriters. Oscar Isaac's raw performances are arresting, as is the subsequent reaction to his efforts. The bittersweet nature of these scenes sums up 'Inside Llewyn Davis' - a film that juggles warmth and coldheartedness yet doesn't quite fully gratify.
'Inside Llewyn Davis' is out today in UK cinemas, through STUDIOCANAL.