The individual and unique style of few filmmakers transcends time, setting and genre as does the Coen Brothers. Be it the harsh, unforgiving western landscapes of True Grit; the 1930’s gangster milieu of Miller’s Crossing or backwoods Americana in O Brother, Where Art thou?, the 40’s neo-noir of The Man Who Wasn’t There, the 50’s corporate New York of The Hudsucker Proxy, the modern gothic of snow covered Minnesota in Fargo or desert hell of West Texas in No Country For Old Men, or even of Greenwich Village in the early sixties during the birth of folk music in their new film Inside Llewyn Davis; the instantly recognizable idiosyncratic specificity and humour of the Coen Brothers couldn’t possibly belong to any other film maker(s). Indeed, those familiar with and ardent fans of the brothers will, as usual, get the most from their latest work.
The titular Llewyln Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling musician that by the time we meet him singing in a coffee house is almost entirely washed up. His former partner has committed suicide, we find out his friend’s fiancé (Carey Mulligan)who he’s had an affair with is pregnant, and he goes from one friends couch to the next in a never ending cycle of desperation as he clings to the dream that he’ll one day make it big. We follow him for a week on the odyssey that is his life, as he goes from couch to couch and a road trip that will decide his faith. Along the way he meets the usual rich tapestry of odd-ball eccentric supporting characters that typically colour the Coen’s films.
The difference and surprise of Davis compared to your usual run of the mill aspirational singer (the likes of which that grace the first few weeks of every singing reality show) is that he’s actually talented, as is immediately apparent in the first scene which shows an extended performance of the first of many great folk songs he sings throughout the film. The key question the Coen’s seem to exploring here is the difference between talent and being a star – the likes of which a certain folk super-star shows in one of the most amusing and surprising scenes in the film. Fans of the O Brother, soundtrack won’t be disappointed either, with a similar ironic treatment given to folk music with Please Mr. Kennedy (featuring Davis and co-star Justin Timberlake) which is guaranteed to become an internet sensation.
By now with both their previously mentioned films and indeed the majority of their impressive filmography, the Coen’s have a great taste for period detail, and this doesn’t disappoint. “The Village” is perfectly designed to recall the period (as well as a few passing nods to famous depictions like the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), and Bruno Delbonnel’s muted cinematography captures it beautifully.
This is truly virtuoso, expertly crafted film making, the only problem is that it’s just a little soulless, and just a little soullessness is a fairly big problem if it stops you caring about the characters. The Brothers, as usual, are more interested in the world they’re creating – and it’s impeccably done – but they forget to make us care about the people that populate it. Offering little resolution does little for them either.
Inside Llewyn Davis is in Australian cinemas from 16 January through Roadshow Films.