At first glance Inside Llewyn Davis is about a week in the life of a struggling folk singer in Greenwich Village in the sixties. Nostalgia. But at closer look, it is about much more. Guatemalan born with Cuban ancestry Oscar Isaac portrays Llewyn Davis with an understated charm. Bless the Coen Brothers for casting him , for their fine writing, for keeping control of this important film so that they can de Hollywoodize it. No credits in the beginning. No ego. Humble. Just a soulful Llweyn Davis singing a folk song. He is in a bistro that features folk singers. This was the era. The Kingston Trio. Joan Baez. Folk singers were gods. Successful ones. But what about all those struggling performers who never achieved fame? One of these is named Llewyn Davis and this is his story. His struggle. His meeting with poignant characters on his journey to support himself. His love for and tenderness to cats. His courage.
Cameos by fine actors who deliver powerful understated performances give this film a curiosity which makes one wonder, "Whom will Llewyn encounter next?" First we have a terrific performance from Carey Mulligan as Jean who needs an abortion no thanks to Llewyn. Mulligan is strong, angry and delightful with her foul..I am no longer the Gatsby darling...mouth. Then we have a subdued Jason Timberlake as Jim who sings along with Llweyn. Timberlake is also understated and shines because of this. None of that hot shot, slam bam kind of performance, but a mellowness that adds richness to his brief moments on screen. Then we have Juilliard graduate Adam Driver, known for his role in Girls as Lena Dunham's boyfriend in another one of his quirky, over the top performances in which he sings along with Timberlake and Isaac and grabs the comedy from the scene. Then we have junkie John Goodman who appears as a passenger in a car bound for Chicago from New York and Llweyn is one of three. Oh, not to forget a cat that Llweyn has been schlepping throughout first half of the film. The cat has escaped from one of his many friend's apartments where he has been forced to overnight due to no place to rest his weary bones. Goodman as Roland Turner comes alive from his heroin induced state for jarring comedic moments, but as with all of the Coen Brothers work, the comedy comes naturally out of the performer or the situation. Often black, dark and wickedly funny. Nothing is forced. Goodman has rarely been better. When Llwelyn arrives in Chicago he meets with F. Murray Abraham as Bud Grossman. Not the austere character he plays on Homeland, Abraham's portrait of Grossman as a folk-singers-only-club owner is again subdued. And again, thanks to the Coen Brother's direction, Abraham's performance is sensitive, tender and refreshing. One of the best of his career. He takes long moments and fills them with thought. About Llweyn. The music arranged by T-bone Burnett becomes a character and is the mortar that makes these scenes cohesive. Fine folk singing links the scenes of Llewyn's downtrodden, dejected, and yet inspiring week.
There are many more performers who give richness and texture to this fine film, but as they say in the arts, "There wasn't the room or time to mention them." And this is again what Inside Llewyn Davis is about. Finding room and time to pay attention to the striving, struggling artist. It does not have to be a folk singer. Inside Llweyn Davis is about all performers and the journey along the way to make a living at a craft they love -- be it singing folk songs, dancing, writing, whatever. Loving a craft so much that one puts up with the bullshit along the way. Loving the craft enough that doing it is enough of a reward. One critic wrote, 'I've seen Inside Llewyn Davis many times and still don't know what it's about," Inside Llweyn Davis is about being Inside llweyn Davis and this was enough for me.