INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: January 19, 2016
“Everything you touch turns to s**t. You’re like King Midas’ idiot brother.”
One terrific trait of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen is that you simply never know what they’re going to serve up next. They’ve always played by their own rules and never sold out. Even when making studio movies, they always seem to put their signature stamp on the final product (see Intolerable Cruelty, still one of their most underrated films to date).
But Inside Llewyn Davis is perhaps the best proof yet of the Coen’s playing by their own rules. What other filmmaker, or set of filmmakers, at such a high point in their career would choose to make a simple film about a struggling musician set against the folk music scene in 1961? Very few, I assure you, if any.
This is a masterful character study as only the Coen’s can deliver, about a talented yet insufferable individual. Llewyn Davis (brilliantly played by Oscar Isaac), is a folk singer living off low paying gigs in Greenwich Village. At this point, folk music is an underground favorite that hasn’t quite reached its breakout point when Bob Dylan comes on the scene.
Llewyn’s life away from his stage performances is a constant mess. His agent doesn’t see him as a marketable artist, which is no good for a singer who isn’t willing to sell out. He may or may not have a kid on the way with ex-girlfriend, Jean (Carey Mulligan) who absolutely despises him, and he’s constantly having to look after his neighbors’ orange cat, who indulges in running away.
Though it’s a much smaller and quieter film compared to some of their more notable, outlandish efforts, this is some of the most impressive filmmaking the Coen Brothers have delivered to date. It’s a grand period piece, as the 60s music scene is recreated in breathtaking form. There’s a purposefully murky look to the film as well with a distinctive color pallete and near foggy presence in the cinematography that gives the it an atmosphere all its own.
And from a music standpoint, this features some of the best you’ll ever hear in a single movie. From Llewyn’s opening number, “Hang Me” to a winning variation on the folk favorite “Fare Thee Well” to a somewhat comic moment featuring the performance a protest song against NASA (featuring Justin Timberlake and Kylo Ren himself, Adam Driver), the music numbers here are nothing short of remarkable. It makes you wish music today sounded as good.
Clearly one of their more personal films to date, Inside Llewyn Davis is also one of the absolute best films to date from The Coen Brothers. It’s a film that only gets better with subsequent viewings, not to mention resonate more. For Coen fans and music fans alike, this is a can’t miss affair if there ever was one!
If you’ve by chance waited this long to see the movie, well that’s sort of a good thing because Criterion has given this a beautiful, one of a kind 4K mastering for this Blu-ray release. Again, we have a unique looking film here and perhaps one that normally wouldn’t showcase impressively in an HD format. And yet, Criterion has worked their magic to create a remarkable looking presentation. The colors that do stand out from the mostly milky white display, most notably the orange cat, do so in purely stunning form. Another Criterion triumph!
The notion of Criterion delivering a DTS HD mix to a musically charged film is basically all the info you need for the high rating. From the opening number, the music bits in this are given the most phenomenal form of lossless audio playback. And dialogue delivery is balanced out perfectly with the musical proceedings, and various surrounding sounds in the settings (NYC and Chicago) are given terrific attention as well.
Criterion has already delivered one of the best Blu-rays of the year in the first month of 2016. This is one extras-packed release, starting off with a new audio commentary featuring authors Robert Christgau, David Hajdu, and Sean Wilentz. There’s also a new and absolutely terrific conversation between filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and the Coens about the evolution of their approach, as well as “Inside Inside Llewyn Davis”, a forty-three-minute documentary that is the only extra from the previous Blu-ray release and only one ported over to this one. In addition, there’s the fantastic “Another Day, Another Time”, a 101-minute concert documentary celebrating the music of the film, featuring the likes of Joan Baez, Marcus Mumford, Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch, Jack White, and more. There’s also a new conversation between music producer T Bone Burnett and the Coens about folk music, with illustrations by Drew Christie, as well as a new piece about the early sixties Greenwich Village folk scene, featuring music writer and historian Elijah Wald. Lastly, there’s “Sunday”, a short film by Dan Drasin documenting a 1961 clash between folk musicians and police in Washington Square Park, Trailers for the film and a terrific insert featuring an essay by film critic Kent Jones.
Inside Llewyn Davis is yet another dynamic masterwork from Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s one of a kind as a character study, period piece, and film about music. Criterion’s release is already high on the Best Blu-ray Releases of the Year list, and is a definite must own!