Oscar Isaac is all folked up in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis

by Mark Burger

Music, frequently an important component in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, is of paramount concern in their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, which takes place in the pre-Dylan, Dave Van Ronk era of early- ’60s folk music.

The title character, played by a terrific Oscar Isaac, is a struggling folk singer trying to navigate the treacherous waters of show biz. More talented than most but also unluckier, Llewyn was once a member of a folk duo until his partner took a flying leap off the George Washington Bridge.

Inside Llewyn Davis is populated with great faces and seasoned with some delightful folk songs – all originals — overseen by no less than T-Bone Burnett — and the film is steeped in the look and feel of its time and place, lovingly captured by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.

Llewyn struggles to keep his life and career on track, and the Coens appear to revel in his misery and misfortune. Llewyn isn’t necessary likable, but he’s unmistakably human. It’s easy to identify with his mounting despair as things continually go awry.

A distinctive cast includes Justin Timberlake as Llewyn’s best bud Jim, a fellow folkie whose wife Jean (Carey Mulligan) may be carrying Llewyn’s baby, the always welcome John Goodman (something of a stock player in the Coen Brothers’ stable), Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett as Llewyn’s sister, Adam Driver, Jeanine Serralles, Garrett Hedlund (a man of very few words here) and F. Murray Abraham as a plainspoken music impresario.

There’s a certain rebellious streak to the proceedings, hardly unexpected in the Coen Brothers’ universe. Inside Llewyn Davis may be a bit too dry and off-kilter for more mainstream audiences, but it is a true original — yet another from the talented Coens.

Inside Llewyn Davis opens Friday. !

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