Coen brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' strikes strong notes of art, anger

The Fresno BeeJanuary 8, 2014 

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is like a favorite song that gently caresses your artistic soul. That connection always creates a warm feeling that lingers long after the final notes have been played. "Inside Llewyn Davis" hits a few sour notes, but overall it's a successful emotional composition told in very simplistic terms.

The latest effort from directors/writers Ethan and Joel Coen follows Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a young folk singer trying to rebound from a tragedy that has sent his career into a spiral. He walks the streets of New York — mostly Greenwich Village — looking for solutions to the personal and professional problems that only seem to fade away when he's performing.

The journey Davis takes is not a happy one. He's alienated most of the people he once called friends. A close relationship has put him in both an ethical and financial dilemma. Davis can't even take care of a cat that unintentionally comes into his life. All of this goes into creating the kind of flawed character that the Coens love so much.

His journey is not a solo act, but rather is populated with offbeat characters: A folk singer (Justin Timberlake) whose commitment to music is more for the money than the art; Carey Mulligan plays her role as a VERY close friend to Davis with an anger that is unbridled and unrelenting; and John Goodman's performance as a drug-addicted, fast-talking jazz singer resonates far longer than the limited time he has on screen.

The key is Isaac, who is as believable as the tortured soul musician as he is as the commitment-phobic trouble maker. Such roles are made to be hated, but Davis commands sympathy with a simple look. His actions may be petty but there's always this interest in wanting to see him succeed, and that's because Isaac fills the screen whether he's clinging to the last emotional notes of a relationship or singing the final verse of a song.

The Coens don't take a standard approach to filmmaking, spending as much time creating moments for the audience to be enveloped by the haunting lyrics of the folk tunes as they do advancing the plot. Even when it appears the film has found a traditional direction, the brothers twist and turn the tale until it's going in a very unpredictable way.

Because "Inside Llewyn Davis" takes such an unorthodox path, it's not going to be pleasing to all audiences. It must be treated like the lyrics of a folk song where it's best to understand nothing should be accepted at face value but instead looked at with the knowledge that some things are up to personal interpretations.

If you find the right rhythm, the film is a cinematic composition that keeps on entertaining.

Movie review

"Inside Llewyn Davis," rated R for language, sexual content. Stars Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman. Directed by Ethan, Joel Coen. Running time: 105 minutes. Grade: B

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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at

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