Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

(On Cable TV, August 2014) My current life circumstances mean that I usually see movies 6-9 months after their theatrical release.  In order to “stay current” and understand much of the ongoing conversation regarding movies, I often spoil myself silly on movies I haven’t seen but eventually will.  This usually works pretty well and doesn’t ruin movies as much as you’d think.  But there are exceptions and Inside Llewyn Davis shows the limits of the spoil-yourself-rotten approach in tackling plot-light interpretation-heavy movies.  Having read many descriptions of what made Inside Llewyn Davis so interesting a while ago, I now find that most of the theories about the film are more substantial than the film itself.  A ramble through 1961 Greenwich Village before the folk-music explosion, Inside Llewyn Davis is about a talented but prickly musician who may be at the end of his moribund career.  The film follows him during an eventful week, but don’t expect much in terms of plotting or conclusion: As with many of their previous movies, the Coen Brothers don’t settle for neat dramatic arcs, fully-tied subplots or self-contained screen characters: they hint, leave plenty to the imagination, play with chronology and cut to the credits five minutes before other directors would.  It’s maddening and yet in my encroaching old age, I don’t find it as frustrating as I would have years ago.  (But then again, if you follow the Coen Brothers you’ve already seen No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man)  The music is great if you like folk (I don’t, but the artistry is remarkable and then there’s “Please Please Mr. Kennedy” to amuse us uncouth barbarians.), and as a look at a specific time and place, it’s fascinating in its own right.  The cinematography is remarkable, as this is a cold winter movie and there’s no visual comfort for anyone here.  Oscar Isaac is fascinating as the titular protagonist while Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan have short but striking roles.  While I like individual elements, themes and sequences of Inside Llewyn Davis, I’m not sure I like it as much as the idealized version I had made up in my head while reading the chatter surrounding the film.  You can probably figure out that this is a problem with me rather than the film itself.

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