I said I’d get to it if I remembered, and I did: that the editors of the Book chose to replace No Country for Old Men with the Coens’ recent effort Inside Llewyn Davis seemed to be absolutely incomprehensible to me. If I were to rate the Coen brothers’ individual films as objectively as I could, No Country for Old Men would be at the top; simple as that. Now, Inside Llewyn Davis might full well be worthy of a spot on the list, but not over the likes of No Country for Old Men; I just cannot feasibly believe it could be so. Well, sure enough, this pales in comparison to arguably the Coen brothers’ best film, but I did find a lot more to like about it than I thought I was going to going into it. Whether it still deserves a slot on the list, though, is a matter I leave up for debate.
The film is essentially nothing but an extended yet brief visit (one week, according to Wikipedia) into the life of the titular character, Llewyn Davis, who is a folk singer in the ‘beat’ music scene of New York in the 1960s. Various things happen to Llewyn, he deals with them in whatever ways he can, and how he deals with things is largely how we come to know him as a character. Yes, the film is essentially plotless, but unlike a lot of other list films that can be labeled as such, this doesn’t also make the mistake of being without narrative as well. For instance, there are several running plot threads that pop up recurringly throughout the film, such as Llewyn’s relationship with a fellow singer friend’s lady and Llewyn struggling to return a runaway cat to some friends who let him stay the night on their couch. What most films have, that have the narrative structure that Inside Llewyn Davis has, is a general or consolidated theme that keeps the film from largely being a mostly pointless character study. Here, that theme can best be described as failure, failure in the sense that the character of Llewyn is generally disliked by most of the people that come across him, and that life never throws him any sort of a break, or if it does, it never does so without knowing that Llewyn will surely mess the opportunity up or otherwise shoot himself in the foot and ruin whatever good chance has come his way. Now, for me this goes without saying, but; such a theme would almost certainly not be all that entertaining to use as the backbone for a film, especially one that doesn’t play such a theme for laughs or even black comedy, but Inside Llewyn Davis is remarkably watchable, for a few reasons. One, the cinematography, while being especially muted and drab in color scheme, is so exquisitely fine that the film is easily elevated into the realm of art exhibit; as few Oscar nominations as this one ended up getting in an otherwise crowded award season, I’m quite pleased that it managed one for Best Cinematography, and it fully deserved it. The other factor that makes this a more entertaining film than it probably should’ve been is Oscar Isaac in the title role; his natural charisma is channeled into a character that should be thoroughly unlikable, but manages to be endearing in a “poor, poor Llewyn Davis” kind of way.
While I was watching Inside Llewyn Davis, I couldn’t help but get the impression that the Coens were trying exceptionally hard to make this film their next ‘major’ film, as opposed to the intermediary films in-between the major releases in a director’s (or actor’s) career. So, did they succeed? In my opinion, no, but this is largely due to the decision of their material than lack of effort. Inside Llewyn Davis ends up being far too much of a downer film for it to be a milestone in the career of an otherwise exceptional directing duo, but that’s not to say that it is entirely without merit; just not the merit that the Coens inevitably had in mind when they made the film. In summation, I will close my thoughts on Inside Llewyn Davis with undoubtedly one of the most recurring statements I’ve made about films on the list: it’s not particularly outstanding, but you could do a hell of a lot worse.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10