Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from writers-directors Joel & Ethan Cohen, has elicited strong reactions from viewers, mostly positive but some of which are surprisingly negative. The movie has received a "fresh" rating of 94% from the top critics who are compiled at rottentomatoes,com, but the general audience has been less favorable, giving it a "fresh" rating of 76%. Knowledgeable friends who are long-time Coen Brothers fans have told me that they were disappointed by Inside Llewyn Davis, even as it was nominated for multiple Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Academy Awards. Their objections, I believe, stem from the fact that the story is less a coherent narrative than a series of vignettes which, at the end of the film, literally leaves its viewers where they started. On the other hand, the film features some quirky characters which are portrayed with gusto by excellent actors, wonderful cinematography which beautifully recreates the folk music scene in New York City during the early Sixties, and a terrific musical soundtrack supervised by T Bone Burnett.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 44 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraVioletStandard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/11/2014
The Production Rating: 4/5
If it was never new and it never gets old, then it's a folk song.
The film recounts several tumultuous days in the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961. He has no permanent address and he survives by crashing with friends wherever and whenever he can. The opening scene shows Llewyn singing a mournful tune at the Gaslight Cafe, a "basket house" which over the years featured famous performers such as Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Link Wray, and Bruce Springsteen (a basket house is a venue in which performers are paid from tips which the customers drop into a basket). Llewyn, we learn, was once part of a promising duo, Timlin & Davis, but he is now trying to make it as a solo act. At the conclusion of his set he is told by the cafe's manager that a "friend" is waiting to see him outside of the stage door. Llewyn goes out to the dark alley and encounters a tall, mysterious stranger in a suit. They exchange a few words and the man suddenly and inexplicably slugs Llewyn twice, knocking him to the ground, and then kicks him before walking away.
In the next scene Llewyn awakens when a purring orange cat jumps on his bed. He is staying with friends in an apartment near Columbia University. His friends are not home, and when he opens the door to leave the cat runs out into the hallway. When Llewyn sets his things down to go after the cat, the apartment's door closes and locks behind him. He catches the cat, but now he cannot get back into the apartment. He cannot reach the cat's owner by telephone, but he has to be in Greenwich Village so he has no choice but the take the cat with him on the subway. He stops at the apartment of Jim (Justin Timberlake) and Jean (Carey Mulligan), friends who also are folk singers. They are not home, but the building superintendent lets Llewyn in and he drops off the cat in Jim and Jean's apartment. He then goes to see Mel (Jerry Grayson), the owner of Legacy Records, who recently released Llewyn's solo album. Llewyn hopes that Mel has some royalty payments for him, but Mel tells him that the album has not caught on yet.
The day has started out badly, but it gets worse. When Llewyn returns to Jim & Jean's apartment, he finds Jean at home but she is unhappy about finding a strange cat there. She also has a house guest, a soldier from Fort Dix name Troy (Stark Sands) who also happens to be a folk singer. Jean is obviously angry at Llewyn, and she then slips him a note which says that she is pregnant. It turns out that although Jean lives with Jim and wants to settle down with him, she has had sex with Llewyn and she does not know which of them is the father. That night, at the Gaslight Cafe, Llewyn hears Troy sing Tom Paxton's song "The Last Thing on My Mind," and Troy follows that up by singing "500 Miles" with Jim & Jean. The audience glowingly approves of both performances.
Llewyn wakes up the next morning in Jim & Jean's apartment, where both he and Troy have crashed for the night. Troy tells Llewyn that his Army enlistment is up in a few months and that Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), an agent in Chicago, has expressed an interest in representing him. Llewyn then opens the window while he smokes a cigarette and the cat suddenly jumps out of the window and scrambles down the fire escape. Everything which Llewyn does seemingly turns out badly. He then has a heated meeting with Jean in Washington Park, during which she constantly berates him and informs him that she wants to have an abortion because she does not know if the baby is Jim's or Llewyn's. "I could say that we should talk about this when you're less angry, but when would that be?" asks Llewyn. Jean glowers at him and responds, "Fuck you!"
Llewyn then is offered an opportunity to get a ride to Chicago with two men who are driving there for a gig and who are looking for a rider to share the cost of gasoline. This road trip introduces him to Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), a taciturn poet, and Ronald Turner (John Goodman), an abrasive, obnoxious jazz musician. Llewyn sees it as an opportunity to meet Bud Grossman, the agent who was so taken with Troy. Mel of Legacy Records told Llewyn that he sent a copy of the new solo album to Grossman, and Llewyn is looking to change his management. It only takes two days to drive to Chicago, but the trip involves a number of surprising twists and turns.
Oscar Isaac is exceptional as Llewyn, and he does his own singing throughout the film. Carey Mulligan is both defiant and vulnerable as Jean, whose greatest ambition is to settle down in the suburbs with Jim. She also does her own singing, and she does it quite well. Justin Timberlake has a lesser role as Jim, but he carries it off with aplomb. John Goodman, as always, is larger than life, both literally and figuratively. He dominates every scene that he is in, even when he is just passed out in the back of the car.
For all of the traveling about which takes place in Inside Llewyn Davis, viewers may come across disappointed that in the end it is a circuitous journey which does not really resolve anything. The Coens like to play with their audience, and they throw out tantalizing hints about things which may come to pass but are never realized. For example, at one point Llewyn is driving on the highway and he sees an exit for Akron, where a former girlfriend lives. In any other film he would stop to see here, but the Coens have him drive past the exit.
However one feels about how the film plays out, the performances are uniformly wonderful and the music is outstanding. The Coen Brothers always come up with something different, and Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception. It is a drama, a comedy, and a musical, all rolled into one.
The 1080p image is encoded with the AVC codec and it looks exceptional, as we have come to expect from Sony Blu-rays. The film is properly framed at 1.85:1, with very slight black bands visible at the top and bottom of the picture. The film has a slightly soft look, which appears to be intentional, but it is highly detailed and pleasing. Colors are accurate but generally bland (the action takes place during winter and almost all of Llewyn's friends live in non-descript apartments). Nevertheless, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel perfectly captures the look of the early sixties, and it is enhanced by the terrific use of New York City locations.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The 5.1 HTS HD-MA audio is outstanding and Inside Llewyn Davis deservedly received an Academy Award nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is always clear and understandable. The soundtrack really comes alive when the music is playing, as it is given a wide and pleasing soundstage. The ambient sounds are also quite effective, in particular during the scenes when Llewyn is traveling on the subway and you almost feel as if you are on the train with him
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
The only extra on this Blu-ray is an impressive and informative one. "Inside Llewyn Davis" follows the making of the film from conception until its completion. The Coens point out that the character of Llewyn is based in large part upon Dave Van Ronk, a folk singer who was known as the "Mayor of MacDougal Street." The featurette gives the principal actors the opportunity to discuss their roles, and T Bone Burnett is on hand to talk about the desire of the filmmakers to film the music performances live. The featurette has a running time of approximately 43 minutes.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Fans of the Coen Brothers know that they specialize in highly original, quirky films, and Inside Llewyn Davis is no exception. Viewers who were disappointed with it almost certainly were put off by the meandering script which contains some great dialogue and humorous situations, but also leaves unresolved a number of major issues facing the characters. On the other hand, it does eventually explain why Llewyn is beaten up in the opening scene!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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