Actors: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, T Bone Burnett
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, DTS Surround Sound, Restored, Special Edition, Subtitled, Surround Sound, Widescreen, NTSC
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Run Time: 104 minutes
Every frame of Inside Llewyn Davis is a near miracle in visual storytelling, matched by the Coen Brothers’ signature subtext-filled witty narrative. It is implanted with a whimsical style of humor that only Joel and Ethan could accomplish in a film about the bleak cyclical existence of a struggling artist. Harsh realities about the music industry and real-world references are miraculously blended with touches of surrealism and clever parallels to classic literature. Inside Llewyn Davis has a deceptively simplistic storyline, but the actual filmmaking is richly layered with meaning and subtext, providing hours of introspection and analysis beyond the 104-minute running-time.
This is not the first time the Coens have tackled a period narrative about the struggles of an artist, making a fitting double feature to go with Barton Fink (and possibly the upcoming Hail Caesar!). The artist at the center of Inside Llewyn Davis is a folk singer living in Greenwich Village in 1961 named Llewyn Davis (modeled after the real-life musician, Dave Von Ronk), played spectacularly by Oscar Isaac with minute facial expressions and comic deadpan delivery. Then there’s the pain mixed with purpose when he begins to sing and play the guitar, his most significant performance book-ending the film. But this isn’t your typical inspirational film about a struggling artist, beginning with the fact that Llewyn is a bit of an asshole.
Llewyn is as successful in his music career as a folk singer as he is in life, relying on the kindness of friends allowing him to sleep on their couch without a home of his own. Life is a matter of survival between chances to play his guitar, though a streak of bad fortune makes even his sole reason for existence often feel near impossible. And the constant misfortune is only increased by Llewyn’s discovery that he may have impregnated the girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) of one of his only friends (Justin Timberlake). Even his attempt to quit the music business to sell out for a life in the merchant marines is met by a series of obstacles.
Though their films are filled with moments of absurdist fantasy that seem to embrace the surrealism of cinema, the Coen Brothers also often skillfully ground their narratives in the realistic depictions of specific locations and moments in time. Their filmography provides a map through various aspects of
capturing the look and feel of a place and time period before warping it to fit
their style and sense of humor. Inside
Llewyn Davis exists mostly in the Americana Greenwich Village
folk scene of the early sixties, captured magnificently by the flawless
cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel. No matter how many words I attempt to
rearrange on this page, none are capable of conveying the brilliance in a
single frame of this film. I’m not a strong enough writer to accurately
describe the way this film makes me think and feel.
This director-approved Blu-ray special edition comes with a 4K digital transfer of the gorgeously shot film, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio. New special features include a commentary track with authors Robert Christgau, David Hajdu, and Sean Wilentz, a new featurette about the early 60s folk scene in Greenwich Village, and several new conversations with the Coen brothers. These are the highlight of the new extras, including both a discussion about the music of the film with the Coens and music producer T Bone, and one with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro about their approach. Additionally in the extras is the 43-minute making-of documentary, as well as a 101-minute film documenting the Inside Llewyn Davis tribute concert, and Dan Drasin’s short film about a 1961 clash between folk musicians and police. The foldout insert also has an essay by film critic Kent Jones on one side and a mini poster with original artwork for the film on the other side.
Entertainment Value: 9/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10
Historical Significance: 8.5/10