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Wednesday, 12 February 2014


The Coen brothers schtick is getting a bit old at this stage.

Joel and Ethan Coen have been making films together for thirty years now, and have developed a very distinctive style.

In films like No Country for Old Men, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou, they have made their idiosyncratic mark on Hollywood.

You can tell a Coen brothers' film almost immediately. There are many shots that frame the characters, making them appear small, and at the mercy of their environment. There are long, slow scenes, and characters that often remain impassive, usually in the face of things they don't understand.

Their films are atmospheric and obsessed with movie meta-references, they play games and always have a slightly unreal feeling to them.

And they love these eccentric, quirky characters who have a tenuous grip on their own sanity. Oh, and John Goodman, the rotund Goodman is in the majority of their films, and shows up here again as a heroin-addicted, misanthropic jazz musician.

Their central characters tend to be losers, people who live on the edge of society. They are generally misunderstood, dissatisfied, desperately trying to succeed or survive in a world that rejects them.

Llewyn Davis is another one of these. He is a folk singer in nineteen sixties New York, struggling to make an impact on the folk scene in that city. He is idealistic, refuses to compromise, and because of that is frequently penniless and reduced to sleeping on friends' couches.

And that's really it. We get the usual procession of quirky, off-beat characters that cross Llewyn's path as he attempts to get a break, there is a cat that is in the film for a while, and which then disappears, he falls out with people, makes up with them. We smile at their antics.

And yet there is no progression, no movement forward, Llewyn is more hopeless at the end than he was at the beginning. Things fall apart, and never get fixed.

The only transformative moments in the movie are when the protagonist plays music. Llewyn is transformed, from a defeatist, gloomy misanthropist into an artist, someone consumed by his music, able to produce beautiful sounds and be someone he cannot manage to be in the real world. These moments are the only times when the film transcends the Coen's usual quirk-fest, and touch something deeper and more profound.

Inside Llewyn Davis is an intermittently amusing portrait of a loser, who remains a loser. It has nice touches, as all Coen brothers films do, but is mostly insubstantial and irritating in its absolute refusal to allow any kind of growth or positive change to its central character.

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