'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013) Movie Review - Cannes Film Festival

Inside Llewyn Davis movie review
Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis
Photo: CBS Films

It's been 13 years since Joel and Ethan Coen gave us the bluegrass energy of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and now they've jumped forward 30 years to 1961 and the folk music scene of Greenwich Village with Inside Llewyn Davis, a film so perfect it appears almost effortless. Opening in the Gaslight Cafe, the film's title character croons on stage under the soft glow of the spotlight, capturing the attention of the audience to the point one man's cigarette is only a bent stick of ashes, defying gravity as he looks on without moving.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Grade: A+

Inside Llewyn Davis"Inside Llewyn Davis" is a CBS Films release, directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen and is rated R for language including some sexual references. The running time is .

The cast includes Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Alex Karpovsky, Adam Driver, Justin Timberlake and F. Murray Abraham.

As an audience member, this scene, captured beautifully by director of photography Bruno Delbonnel, immediately places you in the time and place. Over the next 105 minutes we'll follow Lleywn Davis (Oscar Isaac) as he moves from couch to couch, looking for a place to escape the cold New York winter as he hopes to fulfill his dream to make it as a musician in a world that doesn't seem ready for what his songs have to say.

The Coens' used the life and music of iconic folk musician Dave Van Ronk and his memoir "The Mayor of MacDougal Street" as the primary source material for their story. In doing so, the fictional Llewyn Davis captures the mood of an era where many an artist has been overlooked while laying the tracks for artists such as Bob Dylan and others like him. The great thing is this isn't some sort of a musical history lesson. In fact, it's a rather heartfelt drama loaded with dark comedy, but for the most part it's just a brief moment in time captured on film and it's one hell of a lovely picture.

Inside Llewyn Davis is stripped down and laid to bare as Llewyn bounces from house-to-house, crashing with the likes of Jim and Jean Berkey (Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) and the Gorfeins on the Upper West Side, parents to Llewyn's one-time partner in their duo act, Timlin & Davis. Now on his own, Llewyn is struggling as a solo act with a manager uninterested in helping him any more than he has to.

And from the cold New York streets to the just-as-cold streets of Chicago, Llewyn hitches a ride with Garrett Hedlund (who grunts more than speaks and not very often at that) at the wheel and a passed out John Goodman in the back. It's here, in the Windy City you get one of the most deliciously Coen-esque moments of the film as Llewyn performs for a local club owner played by F. Murray Abraham. Debonnel's lighting is on point and Isaac's vocals fill the room with perfect clarity. The camera slowly zooms in, Davis' voice swells and Abraham delivers the line of the film, but I won't be spoiling that here.

The Coens don't play to typical Hollywood archetypes or give their characters the easy way out. You see Llewyn's passion all over his face and you also see the level of despair he's reached, not knowing which direction to turn as it seem sthe world has turned their back on him. He argues with his sister over what to do, she suggests packing it in may be the best choice. "And what, simply exist?" he counters, not wanting to give up on his dream or end up like his dad.

Davis isn't your typical leading man. He's something of an anti-hero and he isn't the most agreeable character, but the fact you never feel he's hiding anything from you, makes it easier to open yourself up to him as an audience member. The overall film benefits from its non-conformist narrative and the fact it isn't necessarily about anything allows it to be about almost everything.

Outside of Isaac's terrific work as Davis -- his singing ability lending an even greater amount of respect to the character -- the rest of the cast is largely supporting. Mulligan probably gets the most time out of any of the supporting cast and she's just as talented at spitting verbal hellfire in Davis' vicinity as she is at well-timed moments of tenderness. Hedlund, Goodman, Abraham and Adam Driver all add something special to the film as the Coens continue to not only cast the right people in the right roles, but give them something to do.

One of the film's greatest attributes, however, is the Coens' sense of timing. The scene with F. Murray Abraham I mentioned above comes at exactly the right moment and they don't play it as a musical insert as most films would. It's not a moment where the lead character plays only one verse of a song and we're meant to pretend he played the whole thing. The Coens allow the music to be just as much a part of the film as the characters and their timing is perfect.

If you were to nail me down and ask me what it's all about, I'd say it's a film about the small things, both in terms of narrative and craft. The level of detail is impressive as is the fact it doesn't overwhelm you with precision. The humor is so perfect it allows a small drama such as this to be just as entertaining as it is profound. A running bit that has Llewyn caring for a stray cat is the best evidence of this I can provide as it goes from something of a comedic and tender beat to a metaphor for the hard life he's living. If ever there was an art film open to the masses this may be the one as it has a little something for everyone.

This is a film rich in mood, character and atmosphere that may one day be remembered as an all American classic. Not a single piece is out of place, not that you'd necessarily notice as you'll be too busy drinking it all in.


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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/JNFilms/ JN Films

    That's great that it's that good. Can't wait to see it

  • Aidan Khan

    Awesome! Any idea when it come out?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheMovieGuru/ The Movie Guru

      December 6 in the US. Limited release

      • Aidan Khan

        thanks good know

  • Aidan Khan

    Maybe an Oscar contender?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheMovieGuru/ The Movie Guru

      oh yeah, it'll be an Oscar contender

      • Aidan Khan

        I agree

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Manu/ Manu

          For which categories do you think this would compete in? Directing? Screenplay? Best Actor?

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

            Im thinking screenplay for sure.Maybe actor too.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheMovieGuru/ The Movie Guru

    I literally said "Halleluia!" out loud when I saw that A+. This has been a rather up and down festival thus far, but with two of my most anticipated (Fruitvale Station and Inside Llewyn Davis) not disappointing, I'm happy to say that I think that this is going to be a great festival.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Manu/ Manu

    Deciding to skip the review so I won't be "spoiled," but I'm glad to see this got an A+! I believe this is Brad's first A+ of 2013? Bumping this one to my #1 on my to watch list and eagerly awaiting for the review on Only God Forgives.

  • http://www.twitter.com/GregDinskisk GregDinskisk

    Having not thought anything about this before, today this film has been bumped up to my top five most anticipated list. Thank you, a fantastic review. I'm glad you LOVED it. Your first A+ of the year.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    Wow, an A+?! That's fantastic! I honestly wasn't expecting this high of a grade, but I'm definitely looking forward to this one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Tom/ Tom

    This is one of my most anticipated movies and I'm glad that it delivers.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Wow. First A+ review of the year! Glad to see you enjoyed it so much! It's good that it fell on the 'good' side of what seems to be (so far) an inconsistent festival.

  • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver

    Not even going to skim the review. A+ is enough to get my motor running for this one again.

  • Bertram J. Krogh

    Can't wait to read this review after I have seen the film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/eoindaly2k11/ Eoin Daly

    How are the songs. Any oscar chances there. Also do you think Mulligan and Isacc will get those nominations?

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt

    Sounds excellent. This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated films of the year.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    So glad to hear this! I just recently watched my first Coen Bros. movie on Monday night (it was The Big Lebowski) and I'm going to give it an A+ on tomorrow's what I watched, what you watched. So I'm glad to hear some of their other work is great as well.

    • http://www.twitter.com/GregDinskisk GregDinskisk

      The Coens are probably good people to start getting into for you. I'd check out True Grit or Burn After Reading if you really liked it.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

        Thanks for the recommendations! I will be trying to check both of those out sometime soon!

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

      Im glad you started with the Big Lebowski, Ryguy. One of my favorites. Have fun

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RonOnealFresh/ Ron Oneal Fresh

    December 6 is so far away.

    • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver

      Jeez, December 6? Ouch!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Elijah/ Elijah

    I'm DYING to see this one. I'll read your full review after it comes out but your last two paragraphs have me pumped up. This is the first year where I'm actively avoiding certain trailers so here's hoping for the best.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    The description doesn't sound remotely interesting to me (neither did the trailer). It looks as if this will probably end up being one of their lesser films - which, for me, would include O Brother, Where Art Thou?... a film many seem to love. But then I've never really found the whole music scene to be all that compelling.

  • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

    Wow, impressive stuff here. Reviews on this one have been excellent, which raises my excitement greatly. The film itself always looked interesting to me, but I wasn't (and still am not) really sure what to expect from it. Regardless, this is one I will certainly be checking out in December. I've always been a huge fan of the Coen Brothers.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/HarryFuertes/ Harry Fuertes

    I've heard nothing but raves for this film. It has jumped to my most anticipated of late 2013.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jennifer/ Jennifer

    So happy to read this review. I'm desperate to see this film!

    Oscar Isaac was really good in 10 Years too.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Fan/ Fan

    This is great to hear! This is one of my most anticipated films. Great review!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Beautifulm/ Beautifulm

    Glad you liked it. Hopefully this year will pick up for you.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    Awesome! Great to finally see an A+ out of Cannes. Really excited to see this!

  • http://thebioscopist.com TheBioscopist

    Hopefully I'll be able to catch this at the London Film Festival in September. The trailer looked interesting, but I wasn't expecting an A+ grade. The only other film I've considered to be A+ is The Shawshank Redemption, so I'm expecting good things.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

    Anticipation has launched through the roof.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    My jaw literally dropped when I saw the A+ from you Brad! I know you do not hand those out lightly. I saw a trailer at the cinema last week. It is such a rich, engaging looking story. Your grade tells me to stay far, far away from zany more input on the film. Unfortunately, this means I will not be enjoying your well written review for awhile. Although, I will skim it-I cant help myself!

  • http://letterboxd.com/vchile/ VChile

    I was more of a rocker back then, but a folkie friend turned me on to Van Ronk. The man was a force of nature. Here's potent example; if you like it, there are plenty other posts of him.

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.com Gautam Anand

    Never been a huge fan of Coens but I have been excited for the film right from the moment I saw its first trailer. With the universal acclaim its getting, it seems finally I can love something from Coens after Fargo.

    Meanwhile, without doubt this is going to be BIG contender at Oscars. December 6 release also suggests Studios will be going for it. If True Grit can fetch 10 nominations, be rest assured this one will bag multiple, if not that many. Still I feel, nominations for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay are all but locked. A couple of actors are also a shoo in, it seems. All in all, a major Oscar contender. And I expect Brad making some movements in his Prediction list once her comes back from Cannes.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

      Yes, I am looking forward to the reshuffling in Brad's Oscar predictions list upon his return from Cannes.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/MichaelM./ Michael M.

      I'm pretty certain the release date was scheduled for December 20th? correct me if i'm mistaken.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/icerose/ cynthia dower

    Sounds like my my kind of film. The Coen Brothers have not failed me as yet.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    Wow! My excitement for this was high but now I just wanna fly out to Cannes and see it!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Art/ Art

    Awesome, didn't love the trailer, but this is great to hear.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Cristy0019/ Cristy0019

    I'm so glad that you liked it, Brad! This is one of the films that I'm looking forward to see in 2013. Can't wait!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/MichaelM./ Michael M.

    I'm not here to cry folly but an A+ sets an unprecedented amount of expectations for this film, just not sure I could fathom that notion, regardless of the Coen's reputable status and skill. I have a feeling that Refn's Only god forgives will be the most endearing cinematic masterpiece thus far at this year's Cannes.

  • Pax

    Brad Brevet, I sign in this account just to tell you how I admire your writing. You have a very simple yet intriguing way of words. Thanks to your articles, I learn a lot about how to write and how to put my ideas in words as much clearly and effectively as I can. Thank you man.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/ravekanth/ Ravi Kanth

    I saw the review for the trailer and couldn't stop myself to click on the review button. It sounds so amazing and I am not missing this one.